(Reuters) – Facing defeat by a rival rebel and fearing death at the hands of Rwandan troops, Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda quietly slipped into Rwanda on a small path with a single escort to turn himself in at the U.S. Embassy in Kigali, according to a U.N. report.
Details of the March 18 surrender of Ntaganda, who evaded arrest on international war crimes charges for seven years, were contained in the confidential interim report by the U.N. Group of Experts to the Security Council’s Congo sanctions committee. The report was seen by Reuters on Friday.
Ntaganda, a Rwandan-born Tutsi rebel known as “the Terminator,” is accused of murder, rape, sexual slavery and recruiting child soldiers during 15 years of rebellion in resource-rich eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
It was not known how Ntaganda made his way from eastern Congo to the Rwandan capital, where he had simply walked into the U.S. Embassy and asked diplomats to transfer him to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The U.N. experts said his secret three-day journey followed after a violent split in the M23 rebel group weeks earlier. Ntaganda’s defeat by rival M23 commander Sultani Makenga was aided by Rwandan officials and demobilized Rwandan soldiers, said the report.
Ntaganda “clandestinely crossed the border into Rwanda using a small path in the Gasizi area with one escort,” it said.
“He reached Kigali with the help of his family and arrived at the United States Embassy on 18 March where he requested to be transferred to the ICC without prior knowledge of Rwandan authorities,” according to the 43-page report.
Rwanda subsequently arrested an individual accused of helping Ntaganda escape and interrogated the warlord’s wife and brother, the experts said.
The career of Ntaganda, who has fought for rebels, militias and armies in both Rwanda and Congo in the last 20 years, reflects the tangled and shifting allegiances of a territory that has been repeatedly traumatized by genocide and violence.
Ntaganda said he was not guilty of war crimes during his first appearance at the International Criminal Court in March.
M23 is a Tutsi-dominated group of former Congolese soldiers that has demanded political concessions from President Joseph Kabila’s government.
M23 CRIPPLED AFTER NTAGANDA DEFEAT
The U.N. experts report in October named Ntaganda as the leader controlling the M23 rebellion on the ground and added that he and other commanders received “direct military orders” from senior Rwandan military figures acting under instructions from Defense Minister James Kabarebe.
Rwanda vehemently denied supporting the M23, accusing the world of trying to blame it for Congo’s unremitting troubles.
The latest experts report found “continuous – but limited – support to M23 from within Rwanda” and cooperation between elements of the Congolese military and a Rwandan Hutu rebel group against the M23 rebels.
Ntaganda had a network of contacts within Rwanda that he used to support his M23 faction against Makenga after the pair had disagreed over the management of M23, the experts said.
“To halt Ntaganda’s activities, Rwandan authorities arrested some of the individuals who were part of this network,” the experts said.
“Some Rwandan officers also provided limited material support to Makenga as he sought to defeat Ntaganda,” found the report. “While some Rwandan officers had ensured Ntaganda of their assistance, in reality they had decide to support Makenga.
“Rwandan officers also fed disinformation to Ntaganda which precipitated his defeat. Former M23 soldiers who fought alongside Ntaganda reported that soldiers of the (Rwandan Defense Force) special forces that were deployed along the border provided Ntaganda with ammunition at the outset of fighting, which made him believe that he enjoyed RDF support.”
As his troops began to run low on ammunition after two weeks of fighting, Ntaganda fled into Rwanda, where he feared Rwandan soldiers deployed on the border would kill him. The U.N. experts said that Makenga had also ordered his troops kill Ntaganda.
It was estimated that about 200 rebels from both sides were killed during the M23 split, the report said. Almost 800 rebels loyal to Ntaganda also fled into Rwanda after their defeat. The experts said Makenga was left with some 1,500 fighters spread across a 270 square mile area (700 sq km).
“Moreover M23 has lost the support of leaders and communities which had supported Ntaganda in northern Rwanda and stopped benefiting from the recruitment and financial networks he had established,” the report said.
“The movement is unable to control its entire territory and suffers from poor morale and scores of desertions,” it said.
By Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau