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Report: Congo Mutiny Using Child Soldiers

Bosco Ntaganda, seated, center, at press conference announcing ex-warlord's commission as general in the Congolese army, despite ICC charges of crimes against humanity, Goma, Jan. 16, 2009 (file photo).
NAIROBI -- Human Rights Watch says a renegade general is forcibly recruiting child soldiers to support his mutiny in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

HRW's new report says at least 149 boys and young men between the ages of 12 and 20 have been forcibly recruited to fight alongside soldiers loyal to Bosco Ntaganda, a former rebel leader who is already wanted by the International Criminal Court for recruiting children as a deputy commander in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), an armed political group that fought in northern Congo during the country's civil war.

The report says at least seven have died in battle.

Human Rights Watch Senior Africa Researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg says much of the forced recruitment has targeted schools.

"In one particular school -- a school called Mapendano Institute -- Bosco's mutinying soldiers arrived in the afternoon at about 2 o'clock, just as the children were finishing their studies, rounded up at least 32 of them, tied them up and then marched them off to their military camp," she says. "They put them into military uniforms and gave them one day of training before they shipped them off to the front lines to fight the Congolese army."

Human Rights Watch says the recruitments have been taking place in Masisi, North Kivu province, an area that until recently was under control of soldiers loyal to Ntaganda.

The former rebel leader and his troops were integrated into the Congolese army in 2009 as part of a peace deal to end years of fighting in the area, but indications the Congolese government was going to arrest Ntaganda on an ICC warrant prompted him and several hundred soldiers to mutiny against the army.

According to Van Woundeberg, the main charge against Ntaganda is recruiting child soldiers.

“What is so shocking is that he is continuing to commit the exact same crime for which he is already wanted by the International Criminal Court," she says.

Former UPC commander Thomas Lubanga was convicted of the same crimes in March, and ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Monday he is seeking to expand the arrest warrant against Ntaganda to also include crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder and rape.

Human Rights Watch says Ntaganda and a small group of soldiers have left the Masisi area that had been their stronghold, and are now hiding out in the Virunga National Park, along with a number of child recruits.