Bosco Ntaganda, a leader of the one of the factions of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s M23 rebel group who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), has fled to neighbouring Rwanda, the Congolese government said Sunday.
The man known as “The Terminator” for his love of frontline action is said to be among fighters belonging to an M23 faction led by former political leader Jean-Marie Runiga.
Ntaganda and Runiga’s faction had been fighting rivals loyal to the group’s military chief Sultani Makenga.
“He [Ntaganda] eventually crossed [the border] on Saturday… he is in Rwanda today,” government spokesman Lambert Mende told the AFP news agency in the capital Kinshasa.
However, neighbouring Rwanda denied Kinshasa’s claims that Ntaganda was on its soil.
“Has Lambert Mende ever thought differently? Be serious!” Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in a text message sent in French.
When asked if she was denying Ntaganda was in Rwanda, she said her comment had “been clear”.
Fighting between rival factions of the M23 has sent hundreds of people, including many rebels, fleeing for Rwanda.
Mushikiwabo confirmed that 600 fighters were among the influx of people that crossed into her country late on Friday and early on Saturday.
“The soldiers and officers from DR Congo that have entered Rwanda have been disarmed and detained. Several wounded among them are receiving treatment with assistance from the Red Cross,” she said.
Runiga has reportedly been detained separately away from the Rwandan refugee camp for his own safety and has requested to go to Uganda.
Speaking to journalists in Rwanda on Saturday, Runiga said: “I am here because the situation on the ground has worsened…. I preferred to stay alive.”
A Rwandan military spokesman said the army was “handling [the refugees] under the international law, we disarmed them upon arrival and separated the fighters from civilians.”
M23’s new political leader Bertrand Bisimwa meanwhile announced “an end to military operations” by the Makenga faction against Runiga’s supporters.
Fighting between army mutineers M23 and Congolese forces in the eastern province of North Kivu has displaced 500,000 people since a resurgence in fighting in the region in May last year, according to the UN refugee agency.
More than 25,000 Congolese entered Rwanda as a result of the renewed conflict in eastern DR Congo last year, according to the Rwandan government.