The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) rebel Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for a string of alleged atrocities, has surrendered to the US embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, US and Rwandan officials said on Monday.
Ntaganda asked to be sent to the ICC, the world’s permanent independent war crimes court, US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
“I can confirm that Bosco Ntaganda ... walked into the US embassy in Kigali this morning. He specifically asked to be transferred to the ICC in The Hague,” she told reporters in Washington.
Nuland’s comments confirm an earlier statement by Rwandan Minister of Foreign Louise Mushikiwabo that the rebel general had “presented himself” at the US embassy in Rwanda’s capital.
Nuland said that Washington was in contact with the court and the Rwandan government, adding that the US “strongly [supports] the ICC and their investigation on the atrocities committed in the DRC.”
DR Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende on Sunday said Ntaganda had fled to Rwanda, which has been accused by Kinshasa and the UN of masterminding, arming and even commanding M23 rebels in resource-rich east of the country.
Ntaganda, a former general nicknamed “The Terminator” and widely seen as the instigator of the M23 group’s rebellion against Kinshasa last year, is wanted by the court for war crimes and crimes against humanity including rape, murder and recruiting child soldiers.
UN investigators say Ntaganda has amassed considerable wealth by running a large extortion empire in North Kivu Province, including rogue checkpoints and mine taxes.
Neither Rwanda nor the US are signatories to the court’s founding document, the Rome Statute, and therefore would not be obliged to hand Ntaganda over to the tribunal.
However, his presence in the embassy raises diplomatic issues for both Washington and Kigali.
Kinshasa earlier demanded that Kigali refuse to give asylum to the Rwandan-born Ntaganda.
ICC spokesman Fadi el-Abdallah told reporters late on Monday that the court was trying to confirm Ntaganda’s surrender.
Mushikiwabo on Sunday had scoffed at Kinshasa’s claims that Ntaganda had entered Rwanda, but said that 600 M23 fighters had crossed into the country, including Jean-Marie Runiga, the rebels’ former political leader.
Kigali, which accuses Kinshasa of sheltering and supporting Rwandan rebel groups thought to include perpetrators of the 1994 genocide, signed a deal aimed at ending the crisis last month.