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Congo Army Advances On Rebels Holdout, Says Official

Peter Clottey/VOA News - June 5, 2012
Information Minister Lambert Mende
Information Minister Lambert Mende during a press conference on 1.3.2012 | Enlarge
The Democratic Republic of Congo information minister says the national army (FARDC) is crushing the rebellion by renegade soldiers loyal to General Bosco Ntaganda.

“The army is advancing and they are doing very well. I think the very big part of the mountain where those [rebels] were hiding has been retaken by the army. And we hope that in the hours or days to come, the job will be finished. I think everything will be done very soon,” said Lambert Mende.

He said the FARDC is making significant gains in the ongoing conflict with the rebels.

Mende said the military action against the rebels is aimed at arresting Ntaganda, who has been indicted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC).

Ntaganda is alleged to have committed war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15, and of using them to participate actively in hostilities in Ituri from July 2002 until December 2003. He denies the accusations against him.

Some observers have expressed concerns about what they said to be the failure of the FARDC to quickly quash the rebellion. They said the conflict is forcing unarmed civilians to flee the area into neighboring countries.

Mende said the government wants to protect the civilians.

“We are not there to kill people [and] we will end this fighting. We are concerned with saving the lives of our people who have [been held] hostage by those guys,” said Mende. “We are finishing the job …and we are solving our problem.”

The Congolese army recently issued a five-day ceasefire to allow the rebels – who mutinied following complaints that they were mistreated in the army - to turn themselves in.

Mende said some of the renegade soldiers have since rejoined the army.

“They came back, and they are busy now being redeployed in to other provinces. Those are lives that have been saved [and] we are happy with that. But we are now to finish the job, to crush those who are reluctant to surrender. That is what is being done now.”

Mende called on Bosco Ntaganda to hand himself over to the national army to prevent further bloodshed.

“We need him to be sent to court, because he is a criminal element and we need him to be judged. And we need information from him, who [are] with him to commit these criminal activities. He needs to surrender to avoid to be killed. That’s all,” Mende said.

He said the judicial system will decide whether Ntaganda will be put on trial in the DRC or be handed over to the ICC.

Some observers have accused neighboring Rwanda of arming and supporting the rebellion against DRC government, a charge Kigali sharply denies as dangerous and without merit.

Mende said Kinshasa is waiting for a report by a joint DRC-Rwanda panel to decide its next line of action over the accusations Kigali is behind the rebellion.

“We are waiting for the conclusion of the joint commission that is working with the Rwandan officials and the Congolese officials. They are busy speaking with those prisoners that are claiming to be Rwandan, and the report will be published, I think tomorrow or the day to come,” Mende said.

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