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DRC: Within Days of Crushing Ntaganda Rebellion

Congolese government soldiers depart military outpost between Kachiru village and Mbuzi hill, eastern DRC, May 25, 2012 (file photo).
The Democratic Republic of Congo's government says it is close to ending a rebellion by soldiers loyal to Bosco Ntaganda, a militia leader wanted by the International Criminal Court.

Information minister Lambert Mende said Wednesday that the army had made significant advances and may soon crush the rebellion.

"The army is advancing and they are doing very well," he said. "I think a very big part of the mountains where those guys were hiding have been retaken by the army, and we hope that in the hours or days to come the job will be finished."

Ntaganda, who is known as "The Terminator" and remains in hiding, is wanted by the ICC for allegedly recruiting and using child soldiers in Congo's Ituri province.

Members of his militia group, the CNDP, were integrated into the army in 2009, but the soldiers deserted earlier this year after complaining of poor conditions and low pay, and after Congolese authorities threatened to arrest Ntaganda.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC's chief prosecutor, announced last month that he is seeking new war crimes charges against Ntaganda, including crimes against humanity and intentional attacks against civilians.

In March, the ICC convicted Ntaganda's former associate Thomas Lubanga on charges of using child soldiers. He now faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Fighting between the military and rebels led by Ntaganda erupted in North Kivu province in late April, and Mende says some of the soldiers who joined forces with the rebel group in April have since returned.

"They came back and they are busy now being redeployed to other provinces. Those are lives that have been saved. We are happy with that," said Mende. "But we are now to finish the job, to crush those who are reluctant to surrender. That is being done now."

The United Nations says thousands of people have fled North Kivu to escape the unrest. Army desertions have left portions of North and South Kivu without regular military protection.