Thu, Apr 30, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Warlord in UN-backed offensive

BLIND EYE? The UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo had said it would not take part in operations involving the warlord, who is wanted by ICC prosecutors

REUTERS , KINSHASA

UN peacekeepers are supporting a Congolese army offensive in which a warlord wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) is playing a prominent role, Congolese army documents showed.

An April 4 Congolese internal army (FARDC) report seen by Reuters refers to Jean Bosco Ntaganda as “deputy coordinator” for the offensive in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) against Hutu rebels.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Ntaganda — known as “the Terminator” — last year. Prosecutors in The Hague accuse him of recruiting children under the age of 14 to fight in Ituri in the eastern DRC in 2002 and 2003.

The UN Organization Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, said in January it would not take part in any operation involving Ntaganda. But a MONUC report sent to mission head Alan Doss on April 8 showed that UN officials were told of Ntaganda’s position within the army’s structure.

“His role up to now is that of adviser to General [Dieudonne] Amuli for the operations,” Colonel Delphin Kahimbi, the army’s commander of operations for South Kivu, said last week.

MONUC is providing logistical and military support for the army’s efforts to combat a rebel resurgence in North Kivu. It is also backing the Congolese internal army as it prepares to extend operations into neighboring South Kivu.

Doss said on Tuesday he could not comment on the army document, but had followed up a UN intelligence report about Ntaganda’s reported involvement.

“Based on that report, we certainly contacted the FARDC authorities and I was away at the time, but I received a call from a very senior official in the FARDC, who assured me that that was not the case,” Doss said in an interview.

“Certainly, in the documents that I’ve seen — the official documents regarding the command structure — his name doesn’t appear,” he said. “Until I have direct evidence to the contrary, I take them at their word.”

Ntaganda was integrated into Congo’s army in January along with other members of the Tutsi-dominated National Congress for the Defence of the People after the arrest of the rebel insurgency’s leader, General Laurent Nkunda.

Rights campaigners and European diplomats have called on MONUC to arrest Ntaganda. Doss said executing the ICC warrant fell outside MONUC’s mandate, adding that it was the government’s responsibility to apprehend the warlord.

New York-Based Human Rights Watch accused MONUC on Tuesday of “burying its head in the sand” over the issue of Ntaganda’s role in the army command structure.

“UN senior officials wilfully choose to ignore the mounting evidence, preferring to brush it aside as rumors, even when the information is confirmed,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, the organization’s senior Congo researcher.

“Instead they take empty assurances from senior Congolese authorities that Ntaganda plays no role,” she said.

Ntaganda is a former associate of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, who is a defendant in the ICC’s first trial in The Hague.

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