May 9, 2008 / 6:48 PM / 11 years ago

Congo rebels demand proof of ICC suspect's guilt

By Joe Bavier

KINSHASA, May 9 (Reuters) - Tutsi insurgents in eastern Congo are demanding proof of war crimes allegations against their military chief before they will hand him over to the International Criminal Court, a spokesman said on Friday.

The court made public an arrest warrant for warlord Bosco Ntaganda last month, accusing him of recruiting children under 15 to fight in a bloody ethnic-based conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern Ituri district.

Ntaganda is the top military commander of renegade General Laurent Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), which is the centre of a lingering conflict in violence-ravaged North Kivu province.

"If there are such serious allegations, about massacres, about enrolling children, we must have the proof," Nkunda's military spokesman, Seraphin Mirindi, told U.N.-sponsored Radio Okapi in an interview broadcast on Friday.

"And that proof we can only have if a serious investigation is carried out with the participation of the CNDP. It is only after that we will know what decision to take."

Ntaganda is a former associate of Ituri militia leader Thomas Lubanga whose trial at the ICC -- the new court's first -- is due to start on June 23. Lubanga is also accused of recruiting child soldiers and sending them to fight.

Known as "the Terminator", Ntaganda returned to his native province of North Kivu in 2006, where he joined Nkunda's CNDP.

The ICC's spokesman in Congo flatly rejected the possibility of a fresh inquiry that would include the Tutsi insurgents.

"The (ICC) prosecutor operates with total independence. It's not up to the CNDP to demand an independent investigation. An independent investigation has already been carried out," Paul Madidi said.

Congo's government signed a peace deal with the CNDP and dozens of other militia and rebel groups in January aiming to end fighting that has driven more than a half million people from their homes since the beginning of 2007.

However, the struggling peace process has been plagued by daily ceasefire violations, and there are now around 75,000 more refugees in North Kivu than at the agreement's signing.

On Wednesday, the Congo's U.N. peacekeeping mission accused eastern armed groups of ignoring human rights pledges made in the peace deal and continuing to recruit child soldiers. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/ ) (Editing by Daniel Flynn)



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