Tag Archives: Joseph Kabila

The Trial of Jean- Pierre Bemba: A Study of Avarice

14 Apr
Http://Washingtonpost.com

Http://Washingtonpost.com

 

Jean- Pierre Bemba- Gombo is one of the richest men in all of Africa let alone the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) the country in which he was born. This is hard to believe at first, seeing that the DRC had been classified by the United Nation’s Human Development Index for 2013 as one of the poorest nations in the entire world. How is it he came to accumulate such a vast fortune estimated at millions of dollars US during such an unstable period in the DRC’s history- as the country struggled through two consecutive, devastating wars? How did he manage to create and maintain personal businesses in the eastern and north –western sections of the country while over 5,000,000 people died- most as a result of war- related illnesses such as Malaria, Pneumonia, Diarrhea, and, Malnutrition? Ironically it was because of these wars that Bemba prospered, expanding both his legal and illegal businesses in the north and east while so many others lost everything: their land, their homes, their families.

By the end of the Second War in the Congo Bemba attempted to change his image by serving as a Vice President in the transitional government, a Presidential candidate in the 2006 election, and as a Member of Parliament. But his reputation would not improve so easily no matter how hard he tried to explain away his past transgressions after relocating to Kinshasa. When asked, most villagers in North Kivu Province recalled a very different Jean- Pierre Bemba. The one they remembered was a brutal warlord who used his personal army to: take their tribal lands away by force; kill and rape innocent men, women, and children; seize others’ businesses especially coffee and timber; establish lucrative diamond and hardwood smuggling operations with the countries of Uganda and the Central African Republic; and plunder his country’s natural resources at a time when his service as a patriot was desperately needed.

Ironically, Mr. Bemba was arrested in Brussels by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on May, 2008 charged with two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes. But these five counts had nothing at all to do with his horrendous deeds in the DRC rather they were issued as a result of offenses allegedly committed by the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC) in the Central African Republic from 2002 to 2003 after having been invited there by President Ange- Felix Patasse to quell an attempted coup against him. As the recognized leader of this militia the court held Bemba personally responsible for their actions.

Bemba’s trial at The Hague began on November 22, 2010 and continues on. But the end is in sight as the court recently declared all submission of evidence suspended and ordered both the prosecution and defense teams to file their closing briefs by June 2, 2014. Meanwhile Mr. Bemba had friends and members of his defense team working on an alternate plan -an illegal one that would ensure all of the charges against him would be dropped. Eventually the ICC was made aware of this plot and arrested four men suspected of perpetrating crimes against the court. Aime- Kilolo Musamba, lawyer-lead defense council, Jean-Jacques Mangenda- Kabongo, lawyer-case manager, Fidele Babala- Wandu, Member of DRC Parliament and Deputy Secretary of the MLC, Bemba’s militia turned political party, as well as Narcisse Arido, defense witness. Each man including Bemba was charged with presenting false/forged evidence and tampering with witnesses for the prosecution. On April 2, 2014 the trial judges determined that the additional charges of presenting false or forged evidence and tampering with witnesses would be treated as a different case and tried separately.

But who is Jean- Pierre Bemba anyways? Born into a wealthy, political family in Bokata, Nord- Ubangi District, Equateur Province on November 4th, 1962 young Bemba grew up in the palatial estate of the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko mingling with Belgian aristocrats. Bemba’s father, a successful businessman himself, traveled in the same social circles as Mobutu acting as his advisor when needed. It was a small, elite group of wealthy Congolese families who along with Mobutu divided their time between the Congo and Brussels so much so that Bemba’s older sister eventually married Mobutu’s son and Jean- Pierre became quite close to the former dictator as he neared the end of his tenure even serving as his personal assistant in the early 1990’s. After Mobutu had been exiled Bemba‘s father went on to serve Laurent Kabila as his Minister of the Economy and Industry in the newly- formed government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and then as a senator representing Equateur Province situated in the north-western part of the country while his son did not fare as well. The First War in the Congo would last one year (1996-1997) and as a result Laurent Kabila would capture the capital city of Kinshasa and declare himself President. One year later the Second War in the Congo would erupt when Rwanda and Uganda along with Burundi would invade the DRC after Lauren Kabila refused to keep his promises to them -lucrative mining deals in exchange for their military and monetary support during the First War. Plus Rwanda discovered that Kabila had a much closer relationship with the Hutu Interhamwe then he’d admitted.

During the First War in the Congo Jean- Pierre Bemba lost his businesses plus experienced open mistrust and discrimination by Laurent Kabila and the rest of his new cabinet because of his close connection to Mobutu. But during the Second War he rebounded and by the end of the war controlled most of Northeastern Congo as well as the major smuggling route between the DRC and Central African Republic ( CAR). This was due in no small part to Uganda’s help. Bemba gradually created his own militia, the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC) a local militia composed of Congolese males from the north and eastern region of the country. He soon worked out a deal with the Ugandan government: he would help Uganda gather the hardwood from Kisangani and transport it back to Kampala while in return the Ugandan army would supply, arm, and train his men. Under this transaction Bemba’s militia prospered making his force a feared name throughout North Kivu Province while at the same time Bemba began cashing in on local products from diamonds to coffee beans. According to expert witness testimony presented to the UN’s National Security Council the Second War in the Congo centered on “trade and money”. The militia that controlled the wealthiest caches of natural resources triumphed over the rest so much so that battles were no longer fought to protect the people but to control the most lucrative diamond, gold, and mineral deposits as well as secure the rights to smuggling routes across the eastern border. Eventually Uganda and Rwanda formally withdrew and the Second War in the Congo came to an end but Bemba and his militia continued their smuggling  operations as usual. According to Global Witness (2003-2004) Bemba maintained a lucrative diamond and coffee smuggling ring into the Central African Republic (CAR) using its capital city of Bangui as his base. He smuggled timber into the CAR cut from the Ituri Forest and was paid large operation fees by European hardwood companies operating in the area.

During the Second War Bemba began a deliberate campaign of terror against the local Mbuti Pygmies living in the Congo’s Ituri Forest. In 2003 Sinafore Makelo, an Mbuti pygmy, told the United Nations Indigenous Peoples Forum that during the war Mbuti pygmies were “hunted down and eaten like game animals” by the militias and that none was more deadly than the group known as the “Effaceurs” (erasers). According to Minority Rights Group International “ Les Effaceurs” were soldiers in none other than the Mouvement de Liberation du Congo (MLC), Bemba’s men who used “mass killings, cannibalism, rape, and the threat of violence” to clear the Mbuti from the forests of North Kivu Province. According to testimony provided by Bantu farmers in the area Bemba wanted the pygmies to leave the local forests where they had lived for generations so he could expand his illegal mining and logging operations without witnesses.

Once he returned from the CAR and before leaving for Kinshasa Bemba swore he’d disbanded his MLC turning it into a political party instead but he purposely kept many of his soldiers with him claiming they now served as his personal guards. It was common knowledge around North Kivu Province that the MLC continued to oversee his smuggling operations while Bemba started newer, legal business endeavors such as his airline company and television station. By 2003 he had been named Vice President of Finance and served as one of four VP’s in the new transitional government of Joseph Kabila. He challenged Joseph Kabila by running for President in the 2006 election where he came in second then after a final face-off between the two candidates lost the election.

And then things became dangerously unclear. Mr. Bemba claimed that Joseph Kabila had used fraud to win the election but then said he would “bow out gracefully for the good of the country.” At the same time he did not attend the swearing–in ceremony nor did he give Kabila his official endorsement as President of the DRC. Yet by 2007 he had succeeded in winning a seat in Parliament as a Senator representing the capital city, Kinshasa.

It was common knowledge that Bemba housed many MLC members at his residence in Kinshasa who served as security guards. On March 22, 2007 a fight broke out between these guards and soldiers in the Congolese Army. It seems Bemba’s guards had been ordered by the government to register at a local military base where they would be eventually absorbed into the Congolese army but Bemba claimed these men served as his personal guard and for reasons of security would remain with him. Soldiers in the Congolese army showed up at Bemba’s house then tried to take his “body guards” into custody. The guards refused and started shooting at the soldiers. Although government reports were deliberately vague on the matter, eye- witness accounts around Kinshasa maintained that hundreds of Bemba’s soldiers flooded the streets resulting in open fire fights between them and Congolese troops. Many witnesses became convinced that Bemba was staging a coup in order to seize control of the government buildings. Eventually government forces brought the city under control as Bemba’s men suddenly began withdrawing from the streets. Although the government made no public announcement about the battle between the two sides and at no time referred to the fighting as a coup reports of over six hundred wounded or dead were filed by local hospitals and news agencies around the city. Meanwhile Bemba and his family fled to the South African embassy where he asked for and was granted asylum. One day later, on March 23, 2007 an arrest warrant was issued by the government charging Bemba with high treason. Bemba responded by blaming Kabila saying that the government soldiers had been sent to his home to kill him and that his body guards had only been defending him.

On March 26, 2007 the President of the DRC, Joseph Kabila charged Bemba with using his militia to seize control of the capital city of Kinshasa. Bemba denied these charges claiming that his only goal was to leave the country safely in spite of the thwarted assassination attempt on his life. But before he left the country Bemba ordered the members of his militia to comply with the government’s orders and hundreds of his men registered then were integrated into the Congolese army without incurring any punitive charges.

During April, 2007 Bemba and his family lived in Portugal. While there he continued to talk openly about his fear of reprisal from Kabila’s government and the fact that he planned to return to the DRC to take up his senate seat in Parliament. But by June, 2007 he was still traveling throughout Europe claiming that he feared for his life if he returned to Kinshasa.

One year later on May 24, 2008, Bemba was arrested near Brussels and surrendered to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on July 3. 2008 where he was immediately held in its detention center at The Hague. Before leaving he informed local reporters that these were false charges engineered by Joseph Kabila in order to discredit his good name and prevent him from serving as a politician in the DRC ever again.

Jean- Pierre Bemba Gombo  is a highly dangerous man and not just because of his crimes. It is his ambition that worries me most due to the fact that he has an unlimited supply of money at his disposal with which to buy his way in and out of any situation. My hope is that the ICC will sentence him to prison for a very long time and take his money away in the process. There is more than enough evidence on record to prove that the bulk of his wealth was amassed through illegal means and really belongs to the people of the DRC. And like I have warned many times in the past until the natural resources of the Congo are protected and regulated by an outside, impartial enforcement group such as the United Nations the lives of rural villagers in the east will never improve. Unfortunately, for every warlord and militia group arrested another man and his minions will come forward to take their place. There’s just too much money to be made not to take this chance.

Kat Nickerson                                                             Kingston,  Rhode Island, USA

Bosco Ntaganda: A New Twist to an Old Story

16 Apr

Bosco Ntaganda 2013

New York Times Pool photo by Peter Dejong, March, 2013

On the third Tuesday of March, 2013 former Congolese general Bosco Ntaganda 39, calmly introduced himself to the military personal guarding the gates of the American Embassy located in the capital city of Kigali, Rwanda then asked to be escorted to the office of the highest ranking U. S. official on duty that day where he surrendered himself over to the United States government to face the charges that had been leveled against him by the lead prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although neither the United States of America nor the country of Rwanda are participating members in the ICC, both countries assumed responsibility for his safety then arranged to have him flown to The Hague, Netherlands where he was immediately transferred over to a special security detail sent by the ICC as soon as he landed.

The question of the hour is why? Why would Bosco Ntaganda freely relinquish his freedom after years of flagrantly ignoring the indictments that had been leveled against him by the ICC during 2006 and again in 2012? The ICC had charged Ntaganda with crimes against humanity during his tenure as a commander in different Tutsi militias, specifically for his actions during the Second War in the Congo ( 2002-2003). The 2012 indictment charged him with murder, rape, pillaging, sexual slavery, and the conscription of child soldiers. Although to be fair, Ntaganda was not the first Congolese rebel leader to use children as soldiers.  Laurent Desire Kabila, father of the current president of the DR Congo, Joseph Kabila was the first to conscript child soldiers to fight in his revolution to overthrow the Congolese dictator Mobuto  and his “kadogos” played a crucial role in the battles that brought Kabila to Kinsasha finally placing him in the Presidential palace. These child troops led by the dynamic young leader, Anselme Masau helped make it possible for Kabila to declare himself President of the newly named  Democratic Republic of the Congo which had been previously called Zaire.

Ntaganda first distinguished himself as a master of terror while in the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo (FPLC) and again while in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) where as Chief of Military Operations he became famous for his methods used to recruit and keep child soldiers in these militias. He demonstrated a real talent for terrorizing villagers and making non-combatants submissive. His use of force in the form of rape, torture, and murder of innocent civilians was legendary during the Second War in the Congo and he was not above stealing their meager possessions in order to personally profit from their suffering. Ntaganda’s fellow militia commander Thomas Lubanga had already been found guilty by the ICC during his summer 2012 trial of conscripting child soldiers into his rebel army ( 2002-2003) and is currently serving an eight year prison sentence for this crime.

Rumors and speculation abound, some more plausible than others. Ntaganda had openly lived in Goma, a large Congolese city near the border between the DR Congo and Rwanda or on his farm in Maisisi, North Kivu since the Second War in the Congo had ended. There he enjoyed a life of leisure while cultivating an image as a warlord and demonstrated time and again that he was exceptionally good at making money. He owned shares in several illegal mining operations throughout  Ituri District and made vast sums of money  engaging in various, sorted extortion and illegal taxation schemes which eventually made him a very wealthy man- some say a millionaire in his own right. So why wouldn’t he have fled to cosmopolitan Johannesburg, South Africa where money can  purchase a great deal of anonymity or to Dubai where total exclusivity can be had for the right price? He seemed to have squirreled away enough money to ensure himself a life of luxury as an expatriate, so why didn’t he take the far easier route and run?

Well some say that the United States had placed a huge international bounty on his head making his chances of survival slim to none, thus giving him no choice but to turn himself in. Others say that the United States had put tremendous pressure on Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda and great friend to the United States Government, to cut all ties with Ntaganda even though he unofficially remained a soldier in the Rwandan army and never stopped carrying out Kagame’s orders. Others state that Joseph Kabila, President of the DR Congo after sheltering Ntaganda for years possibly because he did not want to alienate Rwanda announced in April of 2012 that he was considering arresting Ntaganda on the ICC’s charges but had considered trying him in the DR Congo instead of the Netherlands. And then there is M23, a Rwandan- supported rebel group operating in the Congo, who some say ousted Ntaganda from their ranks and swore to kill him if he returned with any of the 700 men still loyal to him.

This rebel movement composed of Congolese soldiers of the Tutsi ethnic group deserted their posts in April of 2012 and began fighting against the current president, Joseph Kabila and his government.  They have managed take over a good portion of Maisisi region from Goma to Sake from the Congolese Army and claim that their mission is to improve conditions for the citizens of the DR Congo by forcing Kabila to give into their demands but they seem to be doing this mainly for the people of the northeast region of the country namely the Tutsi who continue to face discrimination in North and South Kivu.

But this is an old story with basically the same cast of characters and some say that the present rebellion is no more than a continuation of the Second War in the Congo when the neighboring countries of Uganda and Rwanda entered the DR Congo illegally and refused to leave. There is irrefutable evidence that neither government ever departed the northeastern region of the Congo and that both continue to profit from illegally operated mines and the sale of conflict minerals. But for Rwanda, there is a much greater objective and that is the annihilation of the Hutu “Interahamwe”. Many claim that Laurent Kabila gave many of these Hutu extremists asylum in northeastern Congo after an estimated two million of them fled to surrounding countries once the Tutsi freedom fighters (RFP) had taken back the government of Rwanda in 1994. Rumors also attested to the fact that Kabila owed these Hutu militias for helping him oust Mobutu and assume the Presidency of the DR Congo. Rwanda who had also helped Kabila secure his position as president requested permission to enter the DR Congo to hunt down the Hutu rebels but although Rwandan soldiers did so for a time, they were subsequently denied permission to “cleanse the area of all “Interahamwe”. The descendants of these “Interahamwe” still exist in North and South Kivu and Paul Kagame will not rest until every last one of them has been killed. And so M23’s agenda is also the Rwandan agenda and even the United Nations has irrefutable evidence that Rwanda with Uganda’s help has been supporting the M23 Movement.

One only has to reread the history of Laurent Nkunda to understand how Rwanda has had and still has only two goals: it will not leave the Congo alone until the “Interahamwe” are destroyed for good and until the Tutsi have been properly accepted into Congolese society.

Nkunda began his career as a soldier by joining the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) helping to overthrown the Hutu government responsible for the Rwandan Genocide. Then he returned to the Congo and joined Laurent Kabila during the First War in the Congo (1996-1998)  helping him become President of the DR Congo.

By the Second War (200-2003) Nkunda had been promoted to major in the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) a Tutsi militia supported by Rwanda. By 2004 once the wars had ended, Nkunda had risen to the rank of general in the Congolese Army but soon resented his treatment and those of his fellow Tutsi serving in the ranks so he and his men deserted their posts in North Kivu District and fled into the rural areas of Masisi. This became known as the Kivu Conflict and Nkunda claimed that he had no choice but to defend the Tutsi residing in the region who were being murdered by the Hutu rebels living there as well

By August 2007, Nkunda controlled most of the territory in Masisi and Rutshuru and had formed his own Tutsi militia he called the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). Word on the street was that his militia was being financed by Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda.

By 2008, Nkunda advanced on Goma, a large city near the Rwandan- Congo border where he led his fighters against the Congolese army and United Nations troops. The recent fighting displaced around 200,000 civilians, bringing the total number of civilians uprooted by the Kivu Conflict to around 2 million diseased and starving residents of the northeast region of the Congo. Nkunda swore that he would not stop until President, Joseph Kabila accepted his commands.

Although Nkunda had been accused of crimes against humanity especially in his recruitment of child soldiers he firmly denied this allegation stating that he did not advocate the use of child soldiers and had sent them home when he had been given the opportunity to do so. And them something happened – it Joseph Kabila did not reach an agreement with Nkunda but had been negotiating with Paul Kagame instead. Kabila’s demand: If Nkunda was removed from the leadership of the CNDP then Rwandan soldiers would be allowed into the DRC to destroy the Hutu “Interahamwe”  once again”. Now a lot of people believed that Nkunda had only been following Kagame’s directives in the first place and after M23’s similar demands this seems very likely.

And then who took over the leadership of the CNDP but Bosco Ntaganda! Some accounts maintain that he usurped leadership of the militia but that was totally untrue.  The CNDP was a Rwandan militia through and though -supported and operated by the country of Rwanda. Both Nkunda and Ntaganda remained soldiers in the Rwandan Army and did only what Kagame  ordered.

Laurent Nkunda was arrested four years ago by the Rwandan Army in 2009 after he had crossed into Rwanda but he has yet to be charged with any crime by a Rwandan military court. He had been under secret house arrest since that day but many feel that he is free man in Rwanda and even acts as a military advisor to the President of Rwanda concerning DR Congo affairs. The Rwandan government has continually refused to hand over Nkunda to the Congolese courts even though the DR Congo had issued an international warrant for his arrest. The Rwandan government had substantiated the fact that Nkunda remained a Rwandan soldier by ruling in 2010 that Nkunda could only be tried by a military court. They gave the reason that this was because the military had been responsible for his apprehension but that claim would only be accepted by the court if he was considered to be a legitimate soldier in the Rwandan army in the first place.

But the plot continues to thicken. Who was it who also fought alongside Laurent Nkunda and Bosco Ntaganda during the North Kivu Conflict? Why it was Colonel Sultani Makenga also accused of having committed crimes against humanity by massacring 67civilians in Kiwandja, North Kivu during the Kivu Conflict. This is the same Colonel Sultani Makenga who  now leads of the M23 troops. And predictably he professes the  same concerns as Nkunda for the safety of the Tutsi in the Congo and is waging the same war against the  Hutu “Interahamwe” as Nkunda did. Now from where did he receive his marching orders and his money?

One thing is certain, at some point Ntaganda became an unavoidable embarrassment to Paul Kagame but has Rwanda deserted him for good? This remains to be seen but based on Rwanda’s treatment of Nkunda- maybe not? Is M23 against Ntaganda or is this all just an act in order to distance themselves from his despicable reputation- maybe so? Ntaganda entered the courtroom a humble man on the first day of his trial, the decorated officer now wore the reserved, black suit of a European gentleman- far from the boisterous warlord and brutal militia commander responsible for carrying out the heinous charges that had been leveled against him.

He was not asked to enter a plea on the first day of his trial but stated for the record anyways, “I was informed of the crimes but I am not guilty.”

When Judge Trendafileva asked him to state his profession, he answered, “I was a soldier in the Congo.” Maybe had he replied, “I was a Rwandan soldier operating under orders in the DR Congo .”- he might have come somewhat closer to the truth of the matter.

Kat Nickerson                       Kingston         R.I.                  USA

M23 Movement: Will Ntaganda Elude Punishment Again?

24 Jun

Two very different stories have been pitched to the international press corps lately: The first tale was told to local news stations by representatives from the Communication Ministry of the DR Congo located in the capital city of Kinshasa. While the second was emailed by M23 to members of the foreign news agencies as press releases (thirteen in all as of 27/05/2012). These documents were composed by former CNDP rebels, now soldiers in the Congolese army, who had deserted their posts around the same time as Ex-General Bosco Ntaganda left with his own men sometime in early April 2012. This first group of soldiers call themselves the March 23rd Movement or M23 and all they want is a reconciliation with the government in Kinshasa – the same reconciliation promised to them in the March 23, 2009 Amani Leo Peace Agreement  

Both groups have provided vastly different versions of the role Bosco Ntaganda has played in the present conflict in the north-eastern part of the DR Congo. Although the Kabila government informed the international press that M23 fights for Bosco Ntaganda people in the district know differently. According to M23 they do not fight for Bosco Ntaganda, never have. They fight to restore rights awarded to them in the Amani Leo Peace Accord which was signed at the end of the Second War in the Congo in 2003. Bosco Ntaganda is not their leader. Colonel Sultani Makenga leads them and Colonel Vianney Kazarama directs them through their battles with government troops. They have relocated to the Virunga National Forest located directly across from Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda which is also where Ntaganda settled with his troops. This section of tropical forest is home to the Mountain Gorilla (for more information see Blog 6) which is considered an endangered species by the World Wildlife Federation – a total population of 800 gorillas remain.

But in order to make sense of the present situation it is best to look at Ntaganda’s past actions. During the Second War in the Congo, members of the Tutsi ethnic group living in the Congo created the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) to defend themselves against attack by marauding Hutu who had taken part in the Rwandan Genocide. These Hutu soldiers had been expelled from Rwanda by the Rwandan Army once the Tutsi government had taken control of the country sometime in 1995. Laurent Nkunda was the acknowledged leader of the CNDP and he brought Bosco Ntaganda on board to serve as his second in command. Both Nkunda and Ntaganda were Tutsis and former citizens of Rwanda who had fought in the Rwandan War for Independence in 1994. Bosco Ntaganda eventually betrayed General Laurent Nkunda and took over command of the CNDP forces. Rumor has it that Ntaganda was paid a large sum of money by the Rwandan government to remove Nkunda from his position because he would no longer follow orders issued by the Rwandan government. General Nkunda was subsequently turned over to Rwandan military personnel who escorted him to Rwanda where he remains under house arrest to this day.

Ntaganda must have become concerned when President Joseph Kabila openly talked about arresting him in a speech Kabila made this spring after having defended Ntaganda for so long. Kabila’s change of heart was unexpected and contrary to the conditions laid out in the Amani Leo Peace Accord. Under the terms of this agreement, Ntaganda’s crimes should have been forgiven when he accepted his commission as a general in the Congolese army. At the end of the second war in the Congo all of Ntaganda’s CNDP troops were also conscripted into the Congolese Army by President Laurent Kabila in order to ensure a peaceful transition throughout the country especially in the eastern districts that had been plagued by outbreaks of militia warfare.

So in April 2012 Ntaganda gathered around 200 of his former CNDP troops together and defected after hearing the news that his former commander, Thomas Lubanga, had been found guilty by the International Criminal Court of war crimes against humanity and would be sentenced sometime in the summer. Ntaganda had also been indicted by the same international court in 2006 for numerous “crimes against humanity” but had never been arrested even though he lived in the city of Goma where the UN Peace- Keeping Mission was stationed. On May 14th 2012, Louis Ocampo, chief prosecutor for the ICC added the charges of murder, persecution, and sexual slavery to the previous warrant he had issued against Ntaganda. Bosco Ntaganda continued to command his group of men for a time and had positioned them within Virunga Forest as well. But by April 2012 he had begun conscripting young boys into his army again. He sent them into skirmishes with FARC troops and several of the boys died as a result of wounds received in combat.

The appointment of Ntaganda as a General in the Congolese army happened around the time that the peace accord was signed by the Congolese government and the leaders of the CNDP. The M23 troops swear that the government also promised to give them status as a political party. The conditions stipulated in the Amani Leo Accord never materialized beyond the signing of the document. Over time members of the CNDP militia, now soldiers in the Congolese army, split into two separate organizations; those who remained loyal to the ideals of their former leader Nkunda and those who followed Ntaganda. According to M23 leaders this lies at the heart of their issues with the DRC government.

Then something transpired between Ntaganda and his own troops. Did he sell them out to the Congolese Government after making a deal for himself? Or did he just up and disappear one evening? Did his own troops cut him loose because they believed in something more than monetary profit? Or did they discover that Ntaganda had made a deal for himself with the government and was nothing more than an opportunist- a classic narcissist with sociopathic tendencies? Whatever happened, Bosco Ntaganda left his own men and abruptly disappeared from the district.

On May 7, 2012 the Congolese Army claimed that it had retaken the Masisi area in eastern Congo from the M23 rebels. The government claimed that it was still looking for Bosco Ntaganda and had no idea where he had gone. Yet according to an M23 statement in the thirteenth press release the government knew exactly where Ntaganda could be found because they had put him there. It was common knowledge among the villagers in the district that Ntaganda had made a deal with President Joseph Kabila then deserted his troops for his Bunyoli farm in Masisi where he remains awaiting additional orders. And they know this because they have seen him there walking about on his farm.

The suspension of Amani Leo was the impetus for the M23 soldiers to renounce both Ntaganda and the corrupt elements of the Congolese Army (FARDC). And although the M23 leaders have announced that their goal is to reconcile with the Kabila government after the conditions identified in the March 23, 2009 Amani Leo Peace Agreement have been awarded to them, the government says that it is not interested in restoring their rights or in making peace. President Kabila has made it clear that he will not negotiate with the rebels and intends to fight it out until M23 surrenders or has been defeated.

The M23 troops swear that their April 2012 defection from their army posts took place to call attention to the crimes being perpetrated on Tutsi civilians by members the Hutu FDLR and the mistreatment of Tutsi residents by soldiers in the Congolese Army. They wanted to ensure that the government took specific measures to remove these renegade Hutu from the region in order prevent them from committing anymore acts of violence against the Congolese civilian population especially Tutsis. They also sought to pressure the DRC government into implementing the conditions of the Amani Leo Peace Agreement. They want to make it clear that they never meant to wage war against President Joseph Kabila’s troops but were only defending themselves against attack. They say they never wanted to fight; their goal was to return to the conditions set forth in the Amani Leo Peace Accord, be paid a fair salary, and eat. And they want to make it very clear that they have never had any affiliation at any time with General Bosco Ntaganda. They find it extremely unfair that the government of the DRC has “decided to fight them instead of listen to them or help make things better for them.” They want this conflict to end so that they can return to their posts and resume their normal responsibilities as soldiers in the Congolese army.

Unfortunately the leaders in Kinshasa have seriously underestimated the collective talent of the M23 troops who are all seasoned fighters with years of combat experience behind them. They have fought well in the skirmishes so far and have managed to hold off a much larger Congolese Army (FARDC). They took and held the territory along the Congo-Rwanda border, as well as the towns of Mbuzi, Runyoni, and Bunagana. M23 reported this week that it had seized a considerable cache of weapons from the Congolese army after one very heated exchange of gunfire and ground missiles.

Once again, as in the past it has been the civilians in the region who have had their lives disrupted by the impromptu battles and constant exchange of bullets. Most have had to relocate in order to survive. MONUSCO confirmed that around 200,000 refugees have already fled their homes as a result of the latest battles in the area between the M23 rebels, Congolese army, and the Mai-Mai militias. And another 10,000 refugees crossed the border in early May headed for displacement camps in Rwanda and Uganda. About 55,000 Congolese refugees, most of them Congolese Tutsis, have registered for shelter in the Rwandan camps.

Then there are the rumors leaked by the Congolese government and supported by the UN that Rwanda began supporting M23 troops in early May. The government further claimed that up to 300 young Tutsi had been recruited and trained in Rwanda then sent on to serve as M23 troops. The Rwandan government has continued to deny both of these allegations. And then there is the blatant lie that M23 is connected in some way to the Hutu “genocidaires” in Kivu District. The truth of the matter is that during the Second War in the Congo all of the M23 soldiers were once members of the Tutsi militia, CDNP and that the Hutu soldiers hiding in Kivu District were responsible for the deaths of millions of Tutsis. There is no way that M23 troops would align themselves to members of the FDLR after the Tutsi Genocide perpetrated by the Hutus in 1994. This was one of the major reasons they defected in the first place- to make sure that the FDLR Hutu rebels were stopped from attacking and murdering Congolese civilians especially Tutsi in Kivu District. 

The United Nations Organization Mission, DR Congo (MONUSCO) has publically condemned the actions of the M23 soldiers but UN mediators did offer to arbitrate an agreement between M23 and the Kabila government if asked. The UN Security Council has officially petitioned Rwanda and Uganda to help prevent the “flow of supplies” to the M23 troops and to assist in “demobilizing” all armed militias operating in the Eastern Kivu region.

But wasn’t that the reason for the second war in the Congo in the first place? Uganda and Rwanda have no right to enter any section of the Congo without being formally invited by President Kabila first. But it is the Congolese government that has taken an inflexible position in this matter, not M23, and it has already admitted that it will show “no mercy.” By all accounts Kabila plans to exterminate these mutinous troops but why? So why doesn’t he disclose his plans for Ntaganda as well?

Rumors abound as the violence and fear generated by excessive battles in Kivu District rekindle old feuds and rivalries among ethnic groups in the area. Former Mai-Mai militias have regrouped and reports that over 120 people have been killed by Mai-Mai in tribal fighting during the past month have reached Kinshasa. Two Mai-Mai militias, the Raia Mutomboki and the Kifuafua have been credited with the murders in Masisi. Mai-Mai militias were originally formed as tribal defense organizations in the Second War in the Congo and both fought against the Hutu FDLR who were hiding out in the forests near their villages.The Mai-Mai militias took over the Masisi region after the M23 soldiers left the area at the beginning of May. It has been reported that both of these militias killed Tutsi civilians which is highly doubtful because both of these militias fought against the Hutu in the past and defended the Congolese Tutsi populations. It was the Mai-Mai militias who took on the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) forces.

On May 14th, eleven Pakistani UN soldiers were seriously injured in an attack on their base camp by over a thousand people in the town of Bunvakiri, South Kivu. Bystanders at the scene reported that the crowd was led by members of the Mai-Mai militia, Raia Mutomboki. The soldiers were part of a peacekeeping detail with the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO).

Is the Congolese government getting ready to blame this entire incident on M23 and excuse the actions of Bosco Ntaganda like it has so often done in the past? If so, remember that this time the world is not only watching, President Kabila, but it will demand that justice be done.  If these soldiers have to pay for their defection then Bosco Ntaganda must be punished too! There is nothing that these soldiers have done that in anyway compares to the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Ntaganda. Arrest him and send him to the Hague where he belongs along with the rest of the madmen who will eventually stand trial there. Let him be tried by the ICC as the war criminal he was and still is. Because if you protect him one more time, President Kabila, the next warrant issued by the ICC should be for you.

Kat Nickerson   Kampala,  Uganda