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Friday 24 October  

Bosco Ntaganda: 'The Terminator' chief of DR Congo mutiny

Published on 13 July 2012 - 9:30am
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Bosco Ntaganda, the alleged leader of eastern Congo's M23 mutiny, is a feared military commander believed to run a vast extortion empire and wanted by the ICC for recruiting child soldiers.

The Rwandan-born Ntaganda is an ex-general in the Congolese army but is widely seen as the main instigator of a mutiny by ex-rebels who had been integrated in the regular forces in 2009 but defected in April this year.

After regrouping in the Virunga national park, the forces loyal to Ntaganda conquered several towns near the Ugandan border, easily overwhelming the army and prompting fears of an attack on the regional capital Goma.

The offensive displaced at least 220,000 people and prompted the United Nations to call for dialogue between Kinshasa and Kigali, which denies accusations by the world body of arming and funding the M23 mutiny.

Already wanted by the International Criminal Court since 2006 for war crimes that include using child soldiers in 2002 and 2003 in the Ituri region, Ntaganda is suspected of once again recruiting under-age fighters.

Human Rights Watch said in May that Ntaganda had forcibly recruited at least 149 boys and young men into his militia.

"Bosco Ntaganda is once again committing the very crimes against children for which the International Criminal Court has been demanding his arrest," HRW senior Africa researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg said in May.

In an anecdote showing Ntaganda's willingness to get his hands dirty, one woman from Birambizo told HRW that Ntaganda himself visited her village to recruit.

"He asked us to give our children, our students, to him to fight. He came to our village himself," the woman said.

In the words of a child soldier who testified against Ntaganda in The Hague, the man whose taste for frontline action earned him the nickname "The Terminator" is known as someone who "kills people easily".

The ICC in May added new charges against Ntaganda, including crimes against humanity for murder, ethnic persecution, rape and sexual slavery.

His co-accused in the case and former boss, Thomas Lubanga, was handed 14 years on Tuesday for using child soldiers in what was the ICC's first ever sentencing.

Born in 1973 in Rwanda but brought up in the DR Congo, the over six-foot Ntaganda with a penchant for pencil moustaches and leather cowboy-style hats has enjoyed a life of fine dining and freedom despite the ICC warrant.

"Ntaganda has boldly walked around the restaurants and tennis courts of Goma flaunting his impunity like a medal of honour while engaging in ruthless human rights abuses," Van Woudenberg said.

Ntaganda is known as a keen tennis player.

According to UN investigators, Ntaganda has managed to amass considerable wealth by running a large extortion empire in the Nord-Kivu province, manning rogue checkpoints and taxing the area's many mines.

One report said he once earned $15,000 a week from just one border crossing.

In May, a 25-tonne arms cache was found on Ntaganda's farm in Masisi in Nord-Kivu that included mortars, recoilless rifles and small arms.

Ntaganda fled Rwanda to eastern DR Congo as an adolescent following attacks on his fellow Tutsis.

In his late teens in 1990 he joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which was based in Uganda at the time and put an end to the 1994 genocide, under current President Paul Kagame's leadership.

Since then he has alternated between fighting in the national army and rebellions, including in the five-year long DR Congo war that claimed at least two million lives and ended in 2003.

He was once a military chief for the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, a tribal militia led by Lubanga. He later joined Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People.

After the 2009 deal that integrated Nkunda's people into the army, Kinshasa was unwilling to arrest Ntaganda and hand him over to the ICC.

The grim list of crimes attributed to Ntaganda continued to grow when he served as a general in the regular army.

He is accused of several assassinations when he was second-in-command of a government sweep to flush out militias from the eastern region.

But the office of the court's chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in May that the latest events showed Ntaganda could not be trusted and did not deserve another chance.

"Bosco Ntaganda has used the time offered to him since the ICC arrest warrant was issued to move from Ituri to North Kivu, to expand his power on new territories," Bensouda's office said.

"Now more than ever is the time to arrest him."

  • Bosco Ntaganda, pictured in 2009, the alleged leader of eastern Congo's M23 ...
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