For years, the war-crimes fugitive known as “The Terminator” was so supremely confident that he played tennis at a luxury hotel near the Congo-Rwanda border, flaunting his freedom while United Nations peacekeepers drove past.
So it was perhaps in keeping with his style that the fugitive, Bosco Ntaganda, chose the moment of his surrender. Rather than suffering an undignified arrest, he walked through the gates of the U.S. embassy in Rwanda’s capital on Monday, announced his surrender and demanded to be taken to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
It was just the latest dramatic twist in the saga of the notorious rebel commander and accused war criminal who has enjoyed protection from powerful figures on both sides of the border in the war-torn region. But if he is finally sent to the ICC, it will be a major victory for justice in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and potentially a step toward peace in the region.
His surrender is linked to a split in the Rwandan-backed M23 rebel movement in eastern Congo last month.
He was on the losing side in the internal clashes and may have feared retribution from the rebels and from Rwanda’s military. So he drove for more than two hours from Congo’s eastern border to reach Kigali and the U.S. embassy.
Mr. Ntaganda is an elusive and mysterious man, rarely photographed and reputed to be heavily involved in the lucrative trade in Congo’s smuggled minerals.
In a brutal 20-year career,
he fought for rebel militias
and national armies, shifting with the winds of power, and allegedly orchestrating a range of atrocities, including massacres, rapes, sexual slavery and the recruitment of child soldiers.
He was indicted by the international court in 2006 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, yet remained at large for the past seven years.
He led his militia into a merger with Congo’s army in a 2009 peace deal, remaining inside the army for three years until defecting last year to help form the M23 militia, which soon pushed the army out of much of eastern Congo.
An investigation by UN experts concluded he was under the direct military command of Rwanda’s defence minister, James Kabarebe. The investigation found that Rwanda gave crucial military support to Mr. Ntaganda and other rebels in eastern Congo, allowing them to seize a huge swath of territory and capture the strategic border city of Goma last year.
His surrender on Monday could make it easier for the remaining M23 rebels to negotiate a peace deal with Congo’s government. Congolese officials welcomed his surrender and Rwanda too may have been complicit in it.
The news of his surrender was first revealed in a tweet on Monday by Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, before the United States even confirmed it. The United States is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court, but its diplomats promised to ensure that Mr. Ntaganda is transferred to The Hague.
“We strongly support the work that the ICC is doing to investigate the atrocities committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.