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ICC wants DR Congo warlord after shock surrender

DR Congo warlord Bosco Ntaganda at his mountain base in Kabati, Democratic Republic of Congo, on January 11, 2009
Picture taken on January 11, 2009 shows Bosco Ntaganda, self-declared leader of the National Committee for the Defense of the People (CNDP), at his mountain base in Kabati, Democratic Republic of Congo. The International Criminal Court (ICC) called Tuesda

The International Criminal Court (ICC) called Tuesday for the swift transfer of wanted DR Congo warlord Bosco Ntaganda to The Hague after his shock surrender to the US embassy in Kigali.

Nicknamed "The Terminator", Ntaganda is wanted on seven charges of war crimes and three of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in DR Congo that include using child soldiers, murder, rape and sexual slavery.

"The ICC welcomes news of Bosco (Ntaganda's) surrender," the Office of the Prosecutor said in an email to AFP. "We will liaise with the relevant authorities in the region to facilitate his immediate surrender to the ICC."

"This is great news for the people of the DR Congo who had to suffer from the crimes of an ICC fugitive for too long," it added.

Ntaganda, born in 1973, surrendered to the US embassy in the Rwandan capital on Monday after escaping from neighbouring DR Congo.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said he had asked to be transferred to the ICC -- the world's first permanent independent war crimes court -- and Washington is in contact with the ICC and the Rwandan government.

Kigali however refuses any involvement in Ntaganda's potential transfer to The Hague, saying it is a matter for the US, ICC and DR Congo.

British Foreign Minister William Hague hailed Ntaganda's arrest as "a huge moment for victims of conflict in DRC."

"I urge his speedy transfer to the ICC," Hague tweeted.

Ntaganda is believed to have been involved in several armed groups in DR Congo, before being incorporated into the regular army and given the rank of general as part of a peace deal.

He defected last year and became involved in the M23 rebel mutiny against Kinshasa, before fleeing to Rwanda, which has been accused by the DR Congo and the United Nations of masterminding, arming and even commanding M23.

A UN report in November said the M23's "de facto chain of command" included Ntaganda and culminated with Rwandan Defence Minister James Kabarebe.

Ntaganda was allegedly involved in the brutal murder of at least 800 people in villages in eastern DR Congo, using child soldiers in his rebel army and keeping women as sex slaves between September 2002 and September 2003.

ICC judges said last year that "there are reasonable grounds to believe that dozens of villages were attacked" by rebels under Ntaganda's command.

The attacks "resulted in a high number of civilian deaths and forced displacement of over 140,000 people," they said.

The court had already issued one warrant against the warlord in 2006 for recruiting child soldiers but in May last year added the new crimes against humanity charges.

The North Kivu Civil Society federation of rights groups in the eastern DRC, where many of Ntaganda's crimes were allegedly committed, said his transfer to The Hague would be "a decisive turning point towards peace, security."

His trial "will honour the victims of Ntaganda's crimes, victims who are still awaiting justice and send a strong signal in the fight against impunity," the federation said.

Born in Rwanda, Ntaganda fought in the Rwandan Patriotic Front led by current President Paul Kagame, which ended the 1994 genocide by Hutu extremists against the country's Tutsi minority.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), which said in May that the warlord had forcibly recruited at least 149 boys and young men into his militia, on Tuesday welcomed his arrest, saying the US "can ensure that he finally faces justice."

"Ntaganda?s appearance in the dock at a fair and credible trial of the ICC would send a strong message to other abusers that they too may face justice one day," HRW Africa researcher Ida Sawyer said.

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