ICC welcomes Bosco 'Terminator' Ntaganda's surrender
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has welcomed Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda's surrender to stand trial on war crimes charges.
Known as "The Terminator", Gen Ntaganda surrendered on Monday to the US embassy in Rwanda after seven years on the run.
The ICC said it was in contact with the relevant authorities to arrange for his immediate transfer to The Hague.
He denies committing atrocities during the long-running conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The DR Congo government says Gen Ntaganda crossed into Rwanda on Saturday with the help of Rwanda forces.
Many will see this as a positive development for international justice, and for efforts to end the culture of impunity that has blighted eastern DR Congo for much of the past two decades.
Bosco Ntaganda appears to be the first fugitive from international justice to try to hand himself over to the ICC voluntarily. "The Terminator" had spent years defying an international arrest warrant.
So why the change of heart? Perhaps he felt his days in the bush were numbered. Gen Ntaganda's faction of the M23 rebel movement appears to have lost out after in-fighting in recent weeks.
Perhaps he lost the support of powerful backers inside the Rwandan establishment. In a previous incarnation, as a senior figure in the CNDP rebel movement, Gen Ntaganda had enjoyed support from elements within the Rwandan military.
But Rwanda has always denied backing the M23 rebellion. If Bosco Ntaganda does stand trial, many will be eager to hear what he has to say on that subject.
"I think justice now has a chance to prevail, now that he has handed himself in," DR Congo's ambassador to the UK, Kikaya Bin Karubi, told the BBC.
"The most wanted criminal in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has seen that he has no other option now, and the best option for him is to go and face the music."
Neither the US nor Rwanda recognise the ICC.
However, the US state department said on Monday that it was in contact with the ICC and the Rwandan government to arrange his transfer to The Hague.
"The ICC welcomes news of Bosco [Ntaganda's] surrender," the ICC chief prosecutor's office said, AFP news agency reports.
"This is great news for the people of the DR Congo who had to suffer from the crimes of an ICC fugitive for too long," it added.
The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gen Ntaganda in 2006 and another one in 2012. He faces 10 counts of conscripting child soldiers, murder, terrorising communities and using rape as a weapon of war.
Rwanda's Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama told the BBC that the US was free to transfer him to The Hague.
"There are no complicated legal questions," he said.'Conscience'
Mr Karugarama denied that Rwandan troops had helped Gen Ntaganda flee DR Congo, before advising him to enter the US embassy, which is close to the offices of Rwanda's defence ministry.
The Rwandan government was surprised when it heard that Gen Ntaganda had surrendered, he said.
"I think he has a conscience. I believe he knows what he is doing. He's an adult and he exercised his options for his own reasons," Mr Karugarama said.
The charges - which Gen Ntaganda denies - relate to his time as the leader of a militia in the north-eastern DR Congo between 2002 and 2003.
'The Terminator' at a glance
- Born in 1973, grew up in Rwanda
- Fled to DR Congo as a teenager after attacks on fellow ethnic Tutsis
- At 17, he begins his fighting days - alternating between being a rebel and a soldier, in both Rwanda and DR Congo
- In 2006, indicted by the ICC for allegedly recruiting child soldiers
- He is in charge of troops that carry out the 2008 Kiwanji massacre
- In 2009, he is integrated into the Congolese national army and made a general
- In 2012, he defects from the army, sparking a new rebellion which forces 800,000 from their homes
Since then Gen Ntaganda has fought for other rebel groups in the region, as well as the Congolese army.
Most recently he was believed to be one of the leaders of the M23 rebel group, which is fighting government troops in the east of the country.
The United Nations believes the M23 group is backed by the government of neighbouring Rwanda, though Rwanda denies this.
On Sunday, the DR Congo government said Gen Ntaganda, who comes from the Tutsi ethnic group, had fled to Rwanda after he and some of his followers were apparently defeated by a rival faction of the M23 group.
BBC East Africa correspondent Gabriel Gatehouse says that if Gen Ntaganda does reach the ICC, many will be hoping he can shed light on the accusations of Rwanda's involvement in the Congolese conflicts, including the backing of the M23 rebels.
Eastern DR Congo has been riven by conflict since 1994, when some of the ethnic Hutu groups accused of carrying out the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda fled across the border.
Gen Ntaganda's military career started in 1990, at the age of 17, when he joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels, now the ruling party in Kigali.
In November 2008, international journalists filmed him commanding and ordering rebel troops in the village of Kiwanja, 90km (55 miles) north of Goma in DR Congo, where 150 people were massacred in a single day.
In 2009, he was integrated into the Congolese national army and made a general following a peace deal between the government and rebel troops he commanded.
However, he defected from the army last April, accusing the government of failing to meet its promises.