Bosco Ntaganda - the Congolese 'Terminator'

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Bosco NtagandaImage source, AFP
Image caption,
The smiling Terminator is said to be a man who kills easily

Bosco Ntaganda has a beautiful smile, according to those who have met him - but beneath the smile lies a ruthless operator who well deserves his nicknames "Terminator Tango" or "The Terminator".

Gen Ntaganda was first indicted in 2006 by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly recruiting child soldiers during the Democratic Republic of Congo's bloody five-year war.

He was transferred to the The Hague following his surrender at the US embassy in Rwanda in March 2013.

His surrender has been described by some analysts as an act of self-preservation, motivated by the danger he was in after losing a power-struggle within his M23 rebel group.

Additional charges of rape, murder, persecution based on ethnic grounds and the deliberate targeting of civilians were added in May 2012 as a result of evidence given during the trial of his co-accused and former boss, warlord Thomas Lubanga - the first person to be found guilty by the court two months earlier.

A witness testified that as a child he had fought alongside "The Terminator" - saying he was a man who "kills people easily".

Ntaganda was convicted on 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity. These include murder, rape and sexual slavery committed during the conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002 and 2003.

Ntaganda had denied all 18 charges.

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 began his fighting days - alternating between being a rebel and a soldier, in both Rwanda and DR Congo
  • 2006: Indicted by the ICC for allegedly recruiting child soldiers
  • In charge of troops who carried out 2008 Kiwanji massacre of 150 people
  • 2009: Integrated into Congolese national army and made a general
  • 2012: Defects from the army, sparking a new rebellion which forces 800,000 from their homes
  • 2013: Surrenders to US embassy in Kigali, after splits in his rebel group

Ntaganda is "just as dangerous as [Ugandan rebel leader] Joseph Kony", according to ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

"Not arresting Bosco, allowing him to walk freely, like he's not committed any crimes, is unacceptable."

Impunity and luxury

But that is exactly what happened for several years, with President Joseph Kabila refusing to arrest him - for the sake of DR Congo's peace, he said.

And so, the ex-rebel-turned-army general remained free in the eastern town of Goma, enjoying a life of impunity and luxury, which included fine wine and dining and games of tennis.

The local population was not so lucky.

They blame Ntaganda and his soldiers for a series of rapes, looting and murders - in North and South Kivu provinces, and in the Ituri district of north-eastern DR Congo.

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Bosco Ntaganda was born in 1973 in Kiningi, a small town on the foothills of Rwanda's Virunga mountain range, famous for its gorillas.

As a teenager, Ntaganda fled to Ngungu, in eastern DR Congo, following attacks on fellow ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda.

He attended secondary school there - but did not graduate.

In 1990, at the age of 17, he joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels in southern Uganda.

He fought, under the command of RPF leader - now Rwandan President - Paul Kagame, to end the genocide.

After Rwanda's unrest spilled over into DR Congo, he started to flip between fighting rebellions and serving in national armies - both Rwandan and Congolese.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Ntaganda was filmed in Kiwanji on the day of the 2008 massacre

In 2002, he joined the rebel Union of Congolese Patriots in the Ituri district - and spent the next three years as Thomas Lubanga's chief of military operations.

It was for atrocities carried out in Ituri that he was convicted by the ICC.

Ntaganda then joined yet another rebel group - the CNDP - under the leadership of Laurent Nkunda, a key power-broker in the east of the country who, like Ntaganda, had started his military career in the Rwandan rebel force that ended the genocide.

With the backing of Rwanda, he went on to overthrow Gen Nkunda and take over the leadership of the CNDP.

Despite being wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes, under the terms of a 2009 peace deal, Ntaganda joined the national army - and was promoted to general.

He was based in Goma, where he was in charge of up to 50,000 soldiers, many of them former rebels who remained personally loyal to him.

According to a UN investigation, Ntaganda built a lucrative business empire for himself in North and South Kivu - reportedly collecting taxes from mines controlled by the soldiers under his command, charcoal markets and illegal checkpoints.


At one stage, Ntaganda was making about $15,000 (£10,000) a week at one border crossing, a 2011 report by the UN Group of Experts found.

He is also thought to own a flour factory, a hotel, a bar and a cattle ranch outside Goma.

Human Rights Watch researcher Anneke van Woudenberg has met "The Terminator" several times.

He is not an articulate or persuasive speaker, Ms van Woudenberg says.

But, standing at just over 6ft (1.8m) tall, he has a certain presence and charisma - and likes to wear leather cowboy-style hats.

But it is his ruthlessness that really stood out for her: "He is someone who will never face up to his crimes. He always denies and comes up with excuse after excuse to justify what he has done."

The list of his alleged crimes is huge - and Congolese people say "The Terminator" is regarded as a man who leads from the front and personally takes part in military operations.

In November 2008, international journalists filmed him commanding and ordering his troops in the village of Kiwanja, 90km (55 miles) north of Goma, where 150 people were massacred in a single day.

He also commanded troops accused of having killed, because of their ethnicity, at least 800 civilians in the town of Mongbwalu, in Ituri district, after his troops took control of the rich gold mines in the area in 2002.

In early April 2012, he defected from the Congolese army - leaving Goma, taking with him up to 600 heavily armed soldiers.

On 11 April, Mr Kabila finally called for his arrest - but he said he would not be handing Ntaganda to the ICC.

Later that year, Ntaganda's M23 rebel group seized Goma before agreeing to withdraw.

Months of fighting forced some 800,000 people to flee their homes.

But in unexplained circumstances and with the rebels under intense international pressure, they split.

Ntaganda lost out to loyalists of his rival, Col Sultani Makenga, and apparently fearing death, he walked into the US embassy in Kigali, from where he was transferred to The Hague, where has now finally faced justice for his crimes.

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