The State Department of the United States has confirmed that wanted Congolese warlord Gen Bosco Ntaganda is in custody in the US Embassy in Kigali after he turned in himself and ‘specifically asked to be transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Gen Ntaganda, who is wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, is said to have driven into the US embassy on Monday morning, hours after Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo denied allegations by Kinshasa that Ntaganda was in Rwanda.
Moments after news filtered in that Gen Ntaganda was at the American Embassy, the Rwandan government confirmed the development, with Minister Mushikiwabo stating that ‘Ntaganda presented’ himself.
"We have just learned that Gen Ntaganda presented himself at the US Embassy early this morning. The government is still confirming the details of this evolving situation," Ms Mushikiwabo said.
The shocking development was later to be confirmed by the US State Department in a short press briefing where it was confirmed that indeed ‘Ntaganda turned in himself and asked to be transferred to The Hague,” the State Department announced.
The confirmation came hours after the US Embassy in Kigali denied the claims that Ntaganda, infamously known as ‘The Terminator’ was within the confines of the embassy.
“It is a rumour. It is not true. We are also hearing it from the media people calling in,” an official at the US Embassy who preferred anonymity told The East African, but few hours later, the US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed the claims in a press statement.
“He specifically asked to be transferred to the ICC in The Hague. We are currently consulting with a number of governments, including the Rwandan government, in order to facilitate his request,” Ms Nuland told reporters in Washington.
The announcement ended days of speculation regarding the whereabouts of the man who is facing close to a dozen charges relating to killings in Eastern DR Congo, recruiting child soldiers and rapes of scores of woman over the last decade.
Gen Ntaganda’s surrender comes after weeks of fighting between factions of M23 rebels, one led by Gen Sultani Makenga and the breakaway group led by Bishop Jean Marie Runiga, the former political head of M23 and Col Bedouin Ngaruye who are also currently in Rwanda.
The two fled with over 600 men, many of whom were injured during the intense fighting with Makenga’s men.
It had been claimed in an interview with The East African by Lt Col Vianney Kazarama, the spokesperson of Makenga faction, that the two former top men in the M23 ranks had joined Gen Ntaganda.
Over the weekend, DRC Government Spokesperson Mr Lambert Mende had claimed that Gen Ntaganda was in Rwanda but Minister Mushikiwabo was quick to brush off the claims but without necessarily stating it clearly that Ntaganda was not in Rwanda.
Meanwhile, the M23 faction led by Gen Makenga had reported that Gen Ntaganda had fled into the Virunga Mountains following the intense fighting.
A statement released by ICC spokesman Fadi El-Abdullah indicated that The Hague-based international court is working on a ‘swift transfer’, in a move that will mark over two years being on the run.
Links to M23
Gen Bosco Ntaganda was last year linked to the M23 rebels by a United Nations report but the rebel group distanced itself from the wanted man, even though observers maintained that he remained the force behind the rebel group, until he fell out with Gen Makenga.
In a statement sent to The East African over the weekend, Lt Col Kazarama claimed that through Bishop Runiga and Col Ngaruye, Gen Ntaganda had penetrated the ranks of M23 and used the two men to influence decisions.
“They had created factions within the movement and Gen Makenga was able to find out after an investigation. He summoned the two men (Runiga and Ngaruye) and informed them about the dangers of working with the enemy (Ntaganda),”
“After cautioning them, they did not adhere to the call. They were eventually dismissed on February 27, they joined forces with Ntaganda and attacked our bases but we repulsed them and pushed them out. They ended up in Rwanda.” Mr Kazarama told The East African.
Kazarama said they had been ‘incapacitated’ during the fighting and that is how they ended up in Rwanda.
According to the Rwandan Government, ‘Bishop Runiga is currently being held in a different location in Kigali for reasons of his own safety’.
End of an era?
Tensions are really high on what the next step will be. Observers argue this could mark the end of an era and the beginning of a new one---of peace in Eastern DR Congo, if Gen Ntaganda is removed from the picture.
It is now highly expected that the M23 rebel group will ‘reunite’ and ‘reintegrate’ in the government forces while the talks in Kampala that had hitherto collapsed, will resume with a new delegation.
This would be akin to the 2009 events which saw Gen Laurent Nkunda arrested by Rwanda and kept in detention, to date, and eventually his fighters under Gen Ntaganda were reintegrated into the government forces, until April 2012 when a new mutiny led by M23 broke out.
It remains to be seen whether the surrender of Gen Ntaganda will mark the return of peace but again speculation is rife on what his intentions are behind surrendering. Observers say Gen Ntaganda might be planning to ‘reveal a lot’ while in the dock.