DR Congo: Congolese activists oppose plans for Ntaganda
By Jacques Kahorha in Goma (AR No. 202, 2-Mar-09)
A coalition of human rights groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, have expressed their opposition to the government's plan to integrate militia commander Bosco Ntaganda and his force into the national army.
Kubuya Muhangi, spokesman for 51 Congolese human rights groups, told IWPR, "No security and lasting peace [can exist] without justice."
Muhangi said the coalition believes Ntaganda is responsible for crimes against civilians during recent months of fighting in the region and should be handed over to the International Criminal Court, ICC.
Ntaganda has been accused by the ICC of recruiting child soldiers in the eastern region of Ituri. He now heads the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple, CNDP, a North Kivu militia group formerly led by Laurent Nkunda.
Ntaganda recently split with Nkunda, taking much of the CNDP with him and declaring an end to hostilities. He then negotiated with the government which agreed to integrate his troops into the army. Nkunda was subsequently arrested by the Rwandan government and remains in custody there. Discussions are ongoing about his transfer back to Congo.
"We are fully supporting the efforts of president [Joseph Kabila] in the establishment of peace in North Kivu, but not [to make peace] with criminals," said Muhangi.
The coalition said Ntaganda was responsible for killing 150 people in Kiwanja, a town 74 kilometres north of the provincial capital of Goma, between November 5 and 6 last year.
"The case of Kiwanja is not different from crimes he committed in Ituri," Muhangi said.
Ntaganda denied these accusations. "Mai Mai are the ones we fought," he said, referring to the community-based militias who have a profound belief in witchcraft and spirits. "Mai Mai wear civilian clothes and shoot guns. When they were killed and defeated, people said that we killed civilians."
Nkunda also denied responsibility for the deaths in Kiwanja.
"The killers are well known," Nkunda told IWPR shortly before he was arrested. It was a coalition of Mai Mai, PARECO (a North Kivu militia group) and governmental forces. But, as they have allies - the diplomats and media - they are putting those killings on [us]."
"We spent one week in Rutshuru [near Kiwanja]," Nkunda said of his troops. "No death was recorded and no house was looted."
People interviewed in Kiwanja, however, told IWPR that when CNDP soldiers arrived, they entered houses and killed young men accused of fighting the CNDP.
"The Mai Mai held the town for two days," said a young man familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified.
"But [on] the second day, [the Mai Mai] withdrew to the bushes. When the CNDP soldiers arrived in town, they began killing young men. They accused them [of being] the Mai Mai who fought them."
The coalition, meanwhile, said that the on-going military operations in North Kivu involving the CNDP and its new allies - the Congolese army - are "an insult not only to justice but also to victims".
"How can yesterday's perpetrators become protectors today?" said Muhangi.
Meanwhile, many who fled the fighting are reluctant to return.
"We have to wait some days here and see first what is going to happen to those who are going back home," said Virginie, an internal refugee in the Mugunga III camp near Goma.
"We are still afraid," said Mahoro, a displaced person now in the Mugunga I camp. "We ran away because of the [acts] committed by the CNDP soldiers. They are still in our villages. We cannot take a risk of going back home.
"If the president does not [move] on our request [to] arrest Bosco Ntaganda, as well as Laurent Nkunda, we will continue to remind him [of] his justice promises at the national and international levels."
Jacques Kahorha is an IWPR-trained journalist.