Congo warlord surrenders five years after escape from prison

KINSHASA (Reuters) - A wanted warlord in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo has surrendered, five years after he escaped from prison following his conviction for crimes against humanity, the provincial governor said on Wednesday.

Gedeon Kyungu, leader of regional separatist group Bakata Katanga, turned himself in with a bout 100 of his fighters at a ceremony in the village of Malambwe on Tuesday, Haut Katanga governor Jean Claude Kazembe said.

It was not immediately clear why Kyungu had surrendered, what would happen to him now or whether the staged nature of his return suggested some sort of deal had been agreed.

Authorities have struggled for decades to end violence in the east, where militia groups have attacked civilians and plundered vast mineral resources.

Kazembe said he thought Kyungu wanted to take part in the government’s rebel demobilization program, a scheme that rights activists have criticized for integrating violent insurgent groups into the national army.

The region where Kyungu operated before his arrest became known as “the triangle of death” because of the suffering inflicted on civilians there.

News of the ceremony organized to mark his surrender angered some campaigners. “The welcome that was reserved for Gedeon was a great disappointment and an insult to all of his victims... Gedeon’s place is in prison,” the president of the African Association for Human Rights, Jean Claude Katende, told Reuters.

A Congolese military court sentenced Kyungu to death in 2009 for his role in killings in the copper-rich Katanga region. Congolese courts can impose the death penalty but no executions have been conducted since 2003 when a moratorium was imposed.

He escaped from prison in the provincial capital of Lubumbashi in 2011. U.N. experts said in a 2014 report that he had close ties to high-ranking politicians.

The name of his separatist group, Bakata Katanga, means “cut off Katanga” in Swahili.

(Corrects paragraphs 1 and 8 and to make clear Congo has a moratorium on executions.)

Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg