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DR Congo warlord 'to be taken to The Hague within days'

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda, who turned himself in at the US embassy in Rwanda for extradition to the International Criminal Court, will be transferred to The Hague within days, the court's chief prosecutor said Wednesday.

"We are working very closely with those who can help us to ensure he's transferred in the shortest possible time," said ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

She estimated he would be brought to The Hague within "a couple of days" to face charges for using child soldiers, keeping women as sex slaves and participating in the murder of at least 800 people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo between 2002 and 2003.

The ICC specifically charged Ntaganda with war crimes, crimes against humanity in the Ituri region.

"Once he has been transferred to The Hague there will be a first hearing," Bensouda told reporters in Paris. "Judges will set a date for the confirmation of the charges. In my experience this may take three months."

ICC envoys are travelling to Rwanda to collect the former warlord in the capital Kigali, a top US diplomat said earlier.

Ntaganda surprised US embassy staff in Kigali on Monday when he walked in off the street and asked for help in reaching the ICC.

"Officials from the ICC are, as we speak, en route to Kigali," the top US diplomat for Africa, Johnnie Carson, told reporters.

"The timeline is uncertain but the need for rapid and quick action is clear," Carson added, speaking on a conference call from Washington.

"The next 48 hours or so will be critical in all this," he added.

Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, said that Ntaganda "voluntarily walked in" to the embassy, but had no clear answer as to why he chose a United States diplomatic mission for his surrender.

"I suspect that he may have come because he knows that we are a symbol of fairness and justice and integrity in this kind of process... but I don't know and can't read his mind," he added.

Carson also appealed to Rwanda to allow Ntaganda free passage to the airport in Kigali on his way to trial "without interference".

Carson said there had been "very open and good contact" with Rwandan officials, who have given assurances they will allow Ntaganda to go to The Hague. But he also said the "realities in practical terms" of how Ntaganda would travel to the airport were still to be ironed out.

Carson said bringing Ntaganda to The Hague would send a "clear signal" to other rebel leaders and be a step towards improving the situation in DR Congo's volatile east.

"It will take off the battlefield one of the most notorious rebel leaders, a man dubbed by the media 'The Terminator'," Carson said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130320/dr-congo-warlord-be-taken-the-hague-within-days