This week Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese warlord indicted for war crimes, gave himself up after evading an international arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for more than six years. I’m pretty sure I was the last international journalist to meet and interview him.
It wasn’t exactly the uniform I’d imagined him in, but when I came across the Congolese warlord in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, he was wearing a t-shirt with the words “peace and reconciliation” across his front.
General Ntaganda is an indicted war criminal accused of recruiting child soldiers for a 2002 conflict and who, at the time I met him in 2010, had managed to duck an international arrest warrant for more than four years. All the while, he continued to draw allegations of further atrocities – massacres, political assassinations and rape among them.
When a journalist colleague pointed him out to me, he was huddled with the chief of the Congolese armed forces beside a grass football pitch that doubled as a UN helicopter base surrounded by the forests of Walikale.
That in itself was significant – the UN had repeatedly issued contorted and ambiguous statements in an effort to deny Gen Ntaganda was part of a UN-backed Congolese army effort deployed to beat back several rebel groups in the area. But it was an open secret that the former rebel commander whose loyalists had like him been integrated – poorly – into the army, was now second-in-command of the UN-backed mission. The UN later warned me to drop the story when I sought a response from a senior representative.
As Gen Ntaganda began to walk away I found myself walking up to him and greeted him in Swahili. “I am military co-ordinator for the operations…I am the number two,” he soon told me as he reached a vehicle packed with armed troops who looked so young I wondered about their age. “I am going to see my forces,” he said as he prepared to drive off.
The next day he directed me to a secret location in Goma, the volcanic city at the heart of eastern Congo. An armed guard kept look-out from a raised sentry box at the gate while others patrolled the site. One of them eventually summoned me with his muzzle to meet him. Read more