KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — Rwanda's justice minister said Thursday his government will not hinder the transfer of the warlord Bosco Ntaganda from the U.S. Embassy in Kigali to the International Criminal Court.
Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama told The Associated Press that his government has no intention of blocking or hindering the impending transfer of Ntaganda, a warlord who is charged with terrorizing eastern Congo for years.
Ntaganda has been living in the U.S. Embassy since Monday, when he showed up at the front door unannounced and uninvited and asked to be transferred to the ICC to faces charges at The Hague, Netherlands.
The Rwandan minister said there is no need for speculation that Rwanda could stand in the way of that transfer.
"How can Rwanda be a hindrance to somebody who wants to hand himself to the International Criminal Court? It is a deal between himself, the ICC and the U.S. government. Rwanda has nothing to do with it," Karugarama said.
The top U.S. State Department official for Africa, Johnnie Carson, said Wednesday he hoped Rwanda would ensure Ntaganda is able to move freely from the embassy to the airport, and that his transfer would "in no way be inhibited."
Karugarama said there was no need to think that Rwanda might stand in the way. "Why should Carson and anybody, including the media, start speculating that Rwanda will block the transfer? It is not in our habits to block anybody who wants to contribute to justice," he said.
Karugarama said Rwanda has not received any communication from the International Criminal Court on whether any of its officials are heading to Rwanda to facilitate the transfer of Ntaganda, who is nicknamed "The Terminator." A spokesman for the ICC, Fadi El Abdallah, said Wednesday that the ICC is "contacting authorities in Rwanda and the Americans in order to check how we can get him as soon as possible." He wouldn't elaborate on the nature of the contacts.
Ntaganda, who was born in Rwanda but has operated for years in Congo, has a reputation for ruthless methods on the battlefield. His ICC arrest warrant describes how Ntaganda would not hesitate to shell villages with heavy artillery before launching an attack in which his men would kill people with machetes, knifes and rifles.
Those who recently fought alongside him say Ntaganda fled Congo over the weekend after his men lost a key battle against fighters who split off last month from the M23 rebel movement.
Analysts have speculated that Rwandan President Paul Kagame may not want to see Ntaganda testify at The Hague court because of his knowledge of military deals and illicit mineral extractions between Congo and Rwanda.
Congo has been wracked by warfare for years, and Carson noted that some experts indicate 5 million people have died in violence. Women suffer from mass rapes and children are forced to become soldiers.
But even with Ntaganda out of the picture, peace in eastern Congo remains a long way off. The victorious M23 faction of Gen. Sultani Makenga has lost little strength in the fighting with Ntaganda's faction, and troop morale is high after defeating one of the most feared warlords in Africa. Makenga himself does not have an international arrest warrant against him, but is under United Nations sanctions and has a track record of similar crimes to those committed by Ntaganda.