Congo arrests rebel leader wanted for mass rape

KINSHASA (Reuters) - A Congolese rebel leader accused of orchestrating mass rapes and other atrocities has been caught, Democratic Republic of Congo’s army said on Thursday.

Masudi Alimasi Kokodiko, leader of the widely feared Raia Mutomboki militia, was captured on Tuesday in South Kivu’s Shabunda territory after being wounded in a firefight, army spokesman Dieudonne Kasereka said.

Raia Mutomboki was formed in 2005 to fight Rwandan Hutu militias active in eastern Congo and became one of the most powerful of the dozens of armed groups active in the mineral-rich area bordering Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

A report by a U.N. Security Council panel of experts last year said Kokodiko’s forces had gang-raped at least 17 women in the town of Lubila last September. The panel also accused the group of using child soldiers.

In 2012, a U.N.-led investigation found that Raia Mutomboki and two other militias were responsible for the deaths of more than 260 civilians in a wave of tit-for-tat ethnic massacres in North Kivu province.

Congo’s new president, Felix Tshisekedi, who took office in January, has pledged to address the militia violence that plagues the east, where millions died in a civil war in 1998-2003.

Christoph Vogel, a researcher who previously advised the United Nations, said Kokodiko’s arrest “coincides with the new government announcing a more deliberate agenda to disarm militia, yet it remains to be seen if it comes as part of broader change”.

Another of Congo’s most infamous warlords, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, went on trial last year accused of rapes and other atrocities. Victim testimony in that trial began last month.

Additional reporting and writing by Giulia Paravicini; Editing by Sofia Christensen Kevin Liffey