A Congolese rebel leader accused of orchestrating mass rapes and other atrocities has been caught, Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) army said.
Masudi Alimasi Kokodiko, leader of the widely feared Raia Mutomboki armed group, was captured on Tuesday in the Shabunda territory of the eastern South Kivu province after being wounded in a firefight, army spokesman Dieudonne Kasereka said on Thursday.
Raia Mutomboki was formed in 2005 to fight armed Rwandan Hutu groups active in eastern DRC 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 United Nations Security Council panel of experts last year said Kokodiko’s forces had gang raped at least 17 women in the central town of Lubila last September. The panel also accused the group of using child soldiers.
In 2012, a UN-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 restive North Kivu province.
The DRC’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 from 1998-2003.
Tshisekedi succeeded Joseph Kabila, who governed the largely impoverished central African country for 18 years.
Election observers reported a number of irregularities during the vote and there were widespread opposition allegations that it was marred by fraud.
Christoph Vogel, a researcher who previously advised the UN, told Reuters news agency that Kokodiko’s arrest “coincides with the new government announcing a more deliberate agenda to disarm militias, yet it remains to be seen if it comes as part of broader change”.
Last month, Tshisekedi pardoned some 700 political prisoners jailed under Kabila and in February urged tens of thousands of political exiles to return home, saying everyone would be needed to move Congo forward.
Another of the DRC’s most infamous rebel leaders, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, went on trial last year for rapes and other atrocities. Victim testimony in that trial began last month.
According to the UN, Sheka’s forces and two other armed groups raped at least 387 civilians between July 30 and August 2, 2010, as punishment for alleged collaboration with Congolese government forces.
His soldiers are also accused of razing almost 1,000 homes and businesses and taking about 100 people into forced labour.