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Cautious Optimism Over Congolese Warlord’s Surrender

In this Jan. 16, 2009 file photo, Bosco Ntaganda, seated center, holds a press conference with Congo Interior Minister Celestine Mboyo (R), in Goma, Congo.
People in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo say they are glad former warlord Bosco Ntaganda has turned himself in at the U.S. embassy in Rwanda, and say they want him tried by the International Criminal Court. They also say, though, that he is not the only war criminal in Congo who should face justice.

Until a few days ago, Ntaganda and his faction of the rebel group M23 were still in control of the village of Kibati north of Goma. Now, Ntaganda is in U.S. custody, awaiting a requested transfer to the ICC in The Hague.

Kibati's headman, Ignace Madingo, gave this reaction to the news of Ntaganda’s surrender. He says he would like to see Ntaganda transferred to the International Criminal Court at the Hague because he is responsible for many crimes in North Kivu, both murders and sexual violence.

That was the consensus view among Congolese who VOA interviewed in Kibati, Goma and elsewhere. If Ntaganda has any sympathizers they are keeping quiet for the moment.

One local chief said he thought the ex-warlord should be tried in Congo because his crimes were committed in Congo, but everyone who commented said they wanted him tried by the ICC.

A common reaction from many people is relief that Ntaganda has handed himself in, but suspicion that he may yet escape justice or become a token scapegoat.

Floride Bazimiziki, who works for the local government in Kibati, said that she says she’s very happy that Ntaganda has been arrested in Rwanda, but she hopes this will not be a repeat of what happened with Laurent Nkunda, another Congolese warlord who was arrested in Rwanda in 2009 but is still there and has not been jailed or put on trial.

Of about 25 people interviewed at a market and in the streets of Goma, nearly all said there are other suspected war criminals they would like to see punished.

One man said all of the criminals need to be arrested, all the leaders of the M23 rebellion: Bishop Jean Marie Runiga, Sultani Makenga, Bosco Ntaganda and Laurent Nkunda.

Sultani Makenga, Ntaganda’s rival for leadership of the M23, defeated Ntaganda's forces on the battlefield, likely leading to his surrender. Makenga is widely expected to make a deal with the Congolese government in which his forces will be integrated into the army.

Many observers believe the DRC's government risks making the same mistake it made with Ntaganda if it gives Makenga the rank of general and too much power.

Gauthier Muhindo, chairman of the North Kivu Civil Society Association’s working group on justice, said history could be rewriting itself. Nkunda was put aside and replaced with Ntaganda, and today, Ntaganda might be replaced by Makenga. He appeals to the Congolese government not be too hasty in reaching a deal with the M23 rebels.