Residents of Congo's North Kivu province are expressing fear that local and international pressure on Kinshasa will force a former rebel leader to begin fresh fighting soon, despite signing an agreement with the government. Local and international bodies are reportedly putting pressure on President Joseph Kabila's government to hand over rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda to the International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC) for prosecution for war crimes allegedly committed in the DRC. The rebel leader recently signed a peace deal with Kinshasa that effectively ended clashes between the rebels and the national army in restive North Kivu province. The National Congress for the Defense ofthe People rebels (CNDP) also agreed to be integrated into the national army. Journalist Jack Kahora reports for the Voice of America from the DRC. He tells VOA English to Africa reporter Peter Clottey that Congolese are expressing worry about the prospects of a new insurgency.
"It is a rumor which is being spread here in Goma for the last three days. I tried to call the rebels and talk to them, especially the leader Ntaganda and the people who are close to him. Unfortunately, all their telephone lines are not working. I don't know why. But so far we are still trying to reach them to see what their next line of action of would be. What I know is that there was a recent ceremony in Goma, which Ntaganda, although expected to be there, did not go there. This was the ceremony which led to Rwandan troops withdrawing to their country, but Bosco, who has been leading Congolese troops on the ground, didn't attend the ceremony," Kahora noted.
He said the international community refused to share the same space with the former rebel leader.
"The international community recently refused to attend another ceremony which rebel leader Ntaganda was expected to attend because of the warrant which was issued by the International Criminal Court," he said.
Kahora said Ntaganda seems frustrated due to what he described as Kinshasa's silence on his future.
"This is another fact that Ntaganda has been worried about, although when we met Bosco for the first time, it was on the eighth January. He said that he was ready to go to the ICC, but since that time, the authorities in Congo showed as if they are supporting his case and as if they were going to protect him. And that they are not going to hand him over to the ICC. But today, there is a strong pressure on the government. The civil society has written letters to the government and to the president asking him to hand over Bosco Ntaganda to the ICC," Kahora pointed out.
He said there seems to be enormous international pressure on Kinshasa to hand over the rebel leader to the ICC over his alleged war crimes during the rebel insurgency.
"There are some people who are putting more pressure on the government, especially diplomats and the international community so that the government can hand over Bosco Ntaganda to the ICC. And I think all these must frighten him, especially when he can have the protection from the government. But he may not be able to enjoy it as the pressure increases," he said.
Kahora said the rebel leader enjoys tremendous support from the local residents in the North Kivu province.
"In fact in Goma, people seem to support Bosco because it has been a long time since these people have had some semblance of peace. They have been suffering for a long time because of the war and Bosco was the kind of solution to the conflict in the region when he signed the ceasefire with the government. He basically ended the phenomenon of renegade army general Laurent Nkunda because people saw Nkunda as trouble and Ntaganda as somebody who brought about peace in the region. He is seen as the person who just came around and ended what Nkunda was doing. So that is why he is seen as a positive guy among the people," Kahora pointed out.
He said there are some skeptics who believe Ntaganda is not all that positive a person as most of the residents in North Kivu province think.
"On the other hand people don't trust him (Ntaganda) at all. They say that any time, he may go back to the bush and begin fighting or begin the rebellion, since he has got so many problems like the ICC hanging around his neck. It is also possible that the government will not totally uphold the agreement it signed with the rebels. So he may change his mind with all the troubles and start the rebellion. And he can become more dangerous than Nkunda," he said.