DR Congo rebel transfer won't bring peace

The transfer to the International Criminal Court of warlord Bosco Ntaganda would be a blow against impunity but will not fundamentally change the situation in eastern DR Congo, analysts say.

Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been in a state of chronic unrest for almost two decades, beset either by war and insurgencies.

"Ntaganda is the symbol of impunity in the region," said Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa project director at International Crisis Group (ICG).

"If he is transferred and tried there that will be an extremely important event," said Carina Tertsakian of Human Rights Watch.

"Bosco Ntaganda is the incarnation of impunity. If the others see that even Bosco Ntaganda can be put on trial, maybe they can start wondering what will happen to them. That can have an extremely important impact," Tertsakian added.

The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said Ntaganda would be transferred to The Hague within days.

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

The US top diplomat for Africa Johnnie Carson said it was an "opportunity to demonstrate to other rebel leaders that they will be prosecuted" if they commit crimes.

Ntaganda, once a commander of the M23 rebels, is believed to have crossed into Rwanda at the weekend, along with or shortly after several hundred fighters loyal to him, after they suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a rival faction led by Sultani Makenga.

M23 has been fighting against the DR Congo army in the volatile and mineral-rich North Kivu since last April. The rebels briefly seized the key town of Goma in November, but pulled out after a few days.

The UN and Kinshasa have both accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the M23. Both countries have denied the charges and Uganda has hosted peace talks that started in December.

Several analysts admitted they were baffled as to how Ntaganda got the 150 kilometres (nearly 100 miles) from the border to surrender himself to the US embassy in the capital -- in a country where the security forces are omnipresent.

Ntaganda, dubbed "The Terminator", was a senior commander in the military wing of the Union of Congolese Patriots, a militia group active in DR Congo's north-eastern Ituri district in 2002-2003.

He is sought for crimes allegedly committed during that period that include using child soldiers, murder, rape and sexual slavery.

He later moved south to North Kivu province taking over -- with Rwanda's approval -- as head of another rebel group called the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), after its leader Laurent Nkunda was removed and arrested by Rwanda.

Ntaganda's removal would lead to a lull in fighting in North Kivu province and allow the Uganda peace talks to continue -- and perhaps even gather momentum.

But analysts agreed that turning Ntaganda over to the ICC will not solve the unrest in North Kivu, where discontent in the Tutsi community has sparked a series of rebellions.

"It's replacing Bosco Ntaganda with Sultani Makenga, in much the same way as Laurent Nkunda was replaced by Bosco Ntaganda," said the ICG's Vircoulon.

"It's not solving the conflict. It's just managing warlords," he added.

He says that any pact between Makenga and Kinshasa would likely take us back to the 2009 agreement between Kinshasa and CNDP, with the integration of Makenga's faction in the army.

Makenga has long adopted a softer approach than Ntaganda's faction, making demands only at local level.

"It's just trying to stabilise the region without solving the conflict. It's just a case of managing, once every two or three years, warlords who start getting too big for their boots," Vircoulon added.

Some analysts noted that Ntaganda, whose forebears came from Rwanda and who, like many Congolese Tutsi joined the ranks of the Rwandan Patriotic Front in the 1990s -- then a rebellion, now the ruling party -- could feel betrayed by Kigali.

"What is clear is that (Rwandan President Paul) Kagame wanted to get rid of Bosco (Ntaganda). That's why he created the 'real' M23 headed by Sultani Makenga," said Gerard Prunier, an academic and regional expert.

"Ntaganda was useful to Rwanda as long as he was heading an armed group that served Rwanda's economic, political and military interests in Congo," said HRW's Tertsakian.

"Once he lost that power -- and with two arrest warrants out for him -- he was no longer useful."

Kinshasa had already said that -- contrary to the case in 2009 -- in the event of an agreement with the M23 the top commanders guilty of serious crimes would not be integrated into the army and could be tried.

"Rwanda has always been very good at protecting its own interests, even if that means overriding sentimental considerations," said an analyst in North Kivu.

If Kigali did indeed decide to sacrifice Ntaganda, it runs the risk of having its former protege make embarrassing revelations about Rwanda's support to proxy groups in DR Congo.

"The Rwandan government could be afraid Ntaganda will give away secrets if he appears in court," Tertsakian said.

"He's been a key element in the proxy wars in the Kivus for at least 10 years," Vircoulon said, noting that Ntaganda could also "talk of the support he received (from Rwanda) in Ituri".

Tertsakian recalled that Ntaganda would also be in a position to slam the Congolese army for its human rights record.

"As someone who was a general in that army, he must have seen and known a lot of things," she said.

"But what he can say against Rwanda and on Rwandan intervention in DR Congo, that Kigali has systematically denied in recent years, is a lot more delicate."