DR Congo warlord leaves Rwanda for The Hague: officials

Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda left Rwanda Friday with International Criminal Court officials to face trial for war crimes charges, officials said.

"Bosco Ntaganda has just taken off from Kigali in custody of ICC officials," Louise Mushikiwabo said in a message on her Twitter account, referring to Ntaganda dubbed "The Terminator."

Ntaganda surprised US embassy staff in Kigali on Monday when he walked in off the street and asked for help in reaching the ICC, where he is wanted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Embassy officials confirmed his departure after Ntaganda was driven under police escort in a convoy of diplomatic vehicles.

The ICC also confirmed Friday that he had left Kigali and was "heading to the ICC detention centre in The Hague" in The Netherlands.

"This is the first time that a suspect has surrendered himself voluntarily to be in the ICC's custody," the court said in a statement, thanking American, Dutch and Rwandan authorities for their support.

Ntaganda is wanted on seven charges of war crimes and three of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Democratic Republic of Congo.

He was allegedly involved in the brutal murder of at least 800 people in villages in the eastern part of the country, using child soldiers in his rebel army and keeping women as sex slaves between September 2002 and September 2003.

On arrival in The Hague, Ntaganda will receive a medical checkup and then will appear before judges for a formal reading of the charges against him.

A date will also be set at that point for the "opening of the confirmation of charges hearing, a preliminary step to decide whether the case will be referred to a trial or not," the ICC added.

The top US diplomat for Africa, Johnnie Carson, said earlier this week that bringing Ntaganda to trial 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," Carson said.

Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner of Human Rights Watch said the arrival of Ntangda at the ICC "will be a major victory for victims of atrocities in eastern Congo and the local activists who have worked at great risk for his arrest."

The expected trial will show the ICC's importance in "providing accountability for the world's worst crimes when national courts are unable or unwilling to deliver justice," she added.

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

He will arrive in The Hague almost fours years after the signing of the March 23, 2009 peace agreement with Kinshasa, the failure of which sparked a mutiny by the rebels-turned-soldiers, who set up the M23 movement named after that deal.

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.