KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — The government of Rwanda claims that warlord Bosco Ntaganda, who was indicted on war crimes more than six years ago by the International Criminal Court, turned himself in on Monday to the United States Embassy in Kigali, the capital. But two U.S. embassy officials contacted by telephone denied the report.
First in a Tweet and later in an official communique, Rwanda's Foreign Minister and government spokeswoman Louise Mushikiwabo said, "We have just learned that Gen. Ntaganda presented himself at the U.S. Embassy early this morning."
In the capital of the neighboring nation of Congo, where Ntaganda has been on the run since last year, Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende confirmed the information: "We have learned from non-official sources that Bosco Ntaganda is at the U.S. Embassy in Kigali. We are waiting for the United States to make the news official and we are confident they will hand him over to justice."
But two U.S. embassy personnel in Kigali denied the report, when contacted by telephone. One official, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, called the news false. Embassy Public Affairs Officer Susan Falatko said, "I have no information on this."
Nicknamed "The Terminator," for his ruthless actions, Ntaganda was born in Rwanda in 1973, and moved to the neighboring nation of Congo as a teenager. He was first indicted in 2006 by the International Criminal Court for conscripting and using child soldiers during his time as a senior commander in a Congolese rebel group accused of terrorizing the Ituri region of eastern Congo between 2002 and 2003. He later joined and rose through the ranks of a different rebel group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People, which signed a peace accord with the Congolese government on March 23, 2009.
The accord paved the way for Ntaganda and his fellow rebels to join the ranks of the regular Congolese army. He soon became one of Africa's symbols of impunity. Despite the outstanding warrant from the ICC and mounting evidence of continued abuse, he was awarded the rank of general in the Congolese army, living in an upscale villa in the eastern Congolese town of Goma, playing tennis in his spare time.
Then last spring, he and his men began defecting from the Congolese army by the hundreds, claiming that the government had failed to uphold their end of the 2009 deal. They started a new rebellion, dubbed the M23, in honor of the March 23 signing of the now-defunct 2009 accord. And in November last year, the rebel group marched into and seized control of Goma, one of the most important cities in eastern Congo.
Ntaganda's role in the M23 rebellion remained murky, with human rights groups accusing him of leading it, while other M23 leaders attempted to distance themselves from the wanted general.
Earlier this month, M23 split into two different factions. While Ntaganda was believed to have enjoyed Rwanda's support, Rwanda's relationship with him ever since the split remains unclear.
Rights groups on Monday quickly called for the U.S. embassy to hand him over to The Hague.
"Bosco Ntaganda is not called 'The Terminator' for nothing. If he is at the U.S. embassy, the U.S. should immediately hand him over to the International Criminal Court for trial," said Sasha Lezhnev, senior analyst for the Enough Project in Washington, who closely follows Congo. "This would send serious signals to current and future warlords who continue to perpetrate atrocities in eastern Congo."
In Congo, Henri Bora Ladyi, who works at the Conflict Resolution Center which helps demobilize child soldiers, including some who fought in Ntaganda's rebel army, said: "It's a relief, but justice must be done. We fear that he will be kept in Rwanda and won't be extradited. Now what is important is to create space so that children in the M23 can leave the movement."
Gouby contributed to this report from Goma, Congo. Associated Press writer Rukmini Callimachi also contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.