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U.N. experts say wanted rebel leads U.N.-backed ops

* Panel confirms wanted rebel leading U.N.-backed ops

* Rebel's name not on U.N. Security Council arrest list

KINSHASA, May 20 (Reuters) - The de facto deputy commander of U.N.-backed military operations in eastern Congo is a warlord wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges, U.N. experts say.

General Bosco Ntaganda, a rebel who joined a peace deal ending a Tutsi-led rebellion earlier this year, has been indicted by the world court but plays a senior role in operations now being carried out against Rwandan Hutu rebels.

Dynamics have changed dramatically in eastern Congo this year, with traditional foes Congo and Rwanda launching joint operations, but human rights experts have rounded on the U.N. peacekeeping force for not challenging Ntaganda's new role.

"The Group has obtained a document that corroborates General Ntaganda's role as de facto deputy commander (of the Congolese army)," the U.N. panel of experts said in an interim report seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

As well as the document, the experts said they had testimonies from senior army commanders and sources close to the CNDP former rebellion confirming that Ntaganda was deputy commander despite another officer being officially nominated.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission has vowed not to take part in any operation of which Ntaganda is part, but it maintains it can continue supporting the current operations as Congo's government has reassured it that the former rebel is not involved.

Attacks on the Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebels, some of whom took part in Rwanda's 1994 genocide and have since been at the heart of much of Congo's violence, have helped improve Congo-Rwanda relations and ended the once powerful CNDP rebellion.

Analysts say the rebels have maintained or recovered much of the territory they lost, around 250,000 people have been displaced and Human Rights Watch (HRW) this week accused the army of war crimes in the process.

A U.N. Security Council delegation visiting Congo this week handed a list of the names of five army officers it wants the government to arrest for raping women as young as 14.

But the list, seen by Reuters, did not include Ntaganda, who is known as "The Terminator" and is accused of recruiting children to fight in the ranks of rebels he has led.

"Commitments by the government to arrest army officers responsible for rape is a step in the right direction," Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher with HRW, told Reuters.

"But failing to add Bosco Ntaganda to the list is baffling. It undermines international justice and puts at risk the people of eastern Congo, who may face further abuses at his hands." (Writing by David Lewis; editing by Daniel Magnowski and Philippa Fletcher)

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