DRC President Puts Pressure on Military Defectors

Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila. (file photo)
Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila. (file photo)

Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila is seeking an end to a standoff with soldiers loyal to former rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).  The president is trying to persuade the soldiers, who defected from the army in eastern Congo last week, to rejoin.

President Kabila arrived in the eastern city of Goma Monday to put pressure on military leaders of the former rebel group, the CNDP (National Congress for the Defense of the People), to return to the military, in line with the 2009 peace agreement that integrated the rebels into the national armed forces.

Their general, former rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda, ordered soldiers under his command to defect last week, to bolster his own personal security.  Ntaganda is wanted by the ICC to face charges of war crimes committed during the country's civil war, and Kabila has been under increasing pressure to arrest him.

The International Crisis Group Director for Central Africa, Thierry Vircoulon, says little is known about what discussions Kabila is having, saying he has heard no talk of negotiations with the rebels.

“At this stage, we only hear about military operations," said Vircoulon.  "It seems the line is actually to say to the people with Bosco Ntaganda to surrender, and then we don't know what will happen to them, if they will be sanctioned or not.  But so far it seems that the option of force is prevailing.”

He says Ntaganda's mutiny was fairly unsuccessful, with only one-third of the soldiers under his command obeying his orders.  Other former CNDP soldiers have taken part in the military operations against those who did defect, exposing a widening rift within the group.

Ntaganda's whereabouts are unclear, and analysts are speculating on his next move: whether he will try to flee across the border, perhaps into Rwanda, or entrench himself in a rural area of North Kivu province.

Vircoulon says he does not expect any violence, because Kinshasa has such a strong military advantage over the former rebels.

“It's clear that now we don't have the sense that the mutiny has any chances of success, and the whole issue is the future of Bosco Ntaganda himself,” he said.

Ntaganda, who goes by the nickname “Terminator,” is accused of recruiting child soldiers as a deputy commander in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), an armed political group that fought in northern Congo during the civil war.

Pressure to arrest him has intensified since the senior leader of the UPC, Thomas Lubanga, was convicted by the ICC for the same crimes last month.

The DRC government had refused to apprehend Ntaganda, saying that he was critical to the peace process in volatile eastern Congo.  But the recent mutiny, and subsequent military pressure from Kinshasa, indicates his time may be up.

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