Troops loyal to Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, have defected from the army and left the city of Goma as pressure grows to arrest their leader.
Bosco Ntaganda, was effectively ruling eastern Congo from the city of Goma, but is now understood to have left the city with at least 300 and as many as 2,000 armed followers, writes Channel 4 News Head of Foreign News Ben de Pear.
On Monday we broadcast a piece by Jonathan Miller and filmmaker Fiona Lloyd-Davies about Bosco “The Terminator” Ntaganda including allegations of rape, massacres of civilians and the conscription of child soldiers.
Like the now infamous Joseph Kony, Bosco Ntaganda was indicted for conscripting and enlisting child soldiers; unlike Kony, who has been on the run and in hiding for years, he was a highly visible and flamboyant figure in and around Goma, rubbing shoulders with UN peacekeepers and Congolese government officials, whether playing tennis at the city’s better hotels, or eating at the best restaurants.
Last month his fellow accused and former comrade-in-arms Thomas Lubanga became the first person to be convicted by the International Criminal Court. That conviction coupled with the international campaign to arrest Joseph Kony have, we understand, increased the pressure on the Congolese and Rwandan governments to do something about Ntaganda.
When Channel 4 News spoke to him briefly on Monday he denied all of the allegations and referred us to the government of Congo, whom he said were the authority under which he now acted.
In eastern Congo the regional capital, Goma has been tense since the start of the week, with increased security and patrols. And Bosco Ntaganda himself is said to be somewhere between Goma and Massisi, where his CNDP has its support base.
Although, in a deal after the 2008/09 conflict, his CNDP troops were merged into the Congolese army (the FRDC), in reality his men remain loyal to him. He remains at the centre of a fragile regional power structure, with the regional powers or Rwanda, Uganda and Kinshasa competing politically and crucially over the region’s rich mineral resources.
More than 2,000 soldiers are now known to have defected back to him, raising fears of a new insurrection. The troops defected on Sunday amidst word that Kinshasa was coming under intense international pressure to hand over General Bosco Ntaganda.
The army spokesperson Sylvie Ikenge says the defections were spread across both north and south Kivu in the areas of Fizi, Baraka and Uvira (south Kivu) and Masisi and Rutshuru (north Kivu). He claims that they have managed to calm the situation in south Kivu but there is still discontent in the north where Ntaganda’s CNDP has strong support.
The defectors are headed by Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Byamungu. Pushed on why they had defected, he refused to say just saying soon a press release will be released to explain all. But a leader of a militia Mai Mai group, PARECO, points to discontent within the army over salaries and ranks. Many troops have gone for months without pay and many that were integrated in the mixing of brigades are yet to receive confirmation of their ranks.
So could the desertion of former CNDP soldiers from the Congolese army be interpreted as a show of strength by Ntaganda, and not the start of new rebellion, as many have feared since Sunday?
A senior security official in Goma told Channel 4 News that the latest developments were a way of putting pressure on President Kabila to show how much Ntaganda is needed as a partner for peace in the region, making any efforts to arrest him and hand him over to the ICC difficult.