UNITED NATIONS, May 15: The International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor announced on Monday that he is seeking the arrest of Sylvestre Mudacumura, commander of a brutal militia that has terrorised eastern Congo for years.

Mudacumura is wanted on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape, torture and attacking civilians, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo announced.

Mudacumura is the field commander of the FDLR or Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, whose leaders are believed to have taken part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Its members include extremist Hutus, who took cover in neighbouring Congo after the end of the mass killings which claimed the lives of a half a million people, mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group.

Mr Ocampo also announced that he is seeking an expanded warrant on similar charges against rebel leader Gen Bosco Ntaganda, a former general in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s army.

Ntaganda is accused of using child soldiers for fighting in northeastern Congo from 2002 to 2003. He was first indicted on war crimes charges in 2006.    Defections and violence resumed in eastern Congo last month, after soldiers who were formally rebels from the Tutsi ethnic group linked to Ntaganda claimed that they weren’t being paid and that the government had failed to hold up their end of a three-year-old peace deal that integrated them into the army.

The military launched an offensive against the mutineers on April 29. They then called for a five-day cease-fire that ended last Wednesday, in an attempt to lure the defectors back into the regular ranks. Several dozen returned, but the core group of fighters maintains that it will keep fighting.

Mr Ocampo will present a summary of evidence against Mudacumura and Ntaganda to judges on the Netherlands-based court, who will study it and decide whether to issue the warrants.    Mr Ocampo called Mudacumura and Ntaganda two of the most dangerous militia leaders in the Congo.

“We hope arresting them will mark a significant change in the violence that has been afflicting the region for the last 18 years,” he said.

He said their followers “have to understand it’s time for them to demobilise and stop their crimes, they could even help arrest the leaders”.

The prosecutor also called for the Congolese and Rwandan armies to minimise civilian casualties by transforming their military missions against the militias into arrest operations. Civilians are targeted by the militias if they are suspected of aiding the governments’ armies, he said.

On Monday, at least 11 UN peacekeepers from Pakistan were seriously wounded by gunfire at a protest against the FDLR in South Kivu province, said Azerbaijan’s UN Ambassador Agshin Mehdiyev, the current UN Security Council president, who said the council condemned the attacks “in the strongest terms”.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said that elements of an armed Mayi-Mayi group, Rai Mutomboki, might have been involved.    Rwanda’s 1994 genocide began hours after a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana — a member of the Hutu ethnic group — was mysteriously shot down as it approached the capital, Kigali, on April 6, 1994.

The 100-day slaughter that followed resulted in the death of more than half-a-million people, mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group, many of whom were killed by their Hutu neighbours, friends and colleagues.

Mudacumura, according to a 2008 report by independent researcher Rakiya Omaar, was born in the Gisenyi district of Rwanda in 1954. A Hutu, he enlisted in the army, and became part of the elite presidential guard, assigned to accompany the ex-president Habyarimana.

Ms Omaar says in her report that it is unclear what role he played during the genocide. Like thousands of his Hutu kinsmen, he fled across the border into Congo at the end of the genocide.

He and other ex-Rwandan soldiers re-grouped in the refugee camps, and years later, launched a rebel group that became the precursor to the FDLR. Initially he was assigned to handle logistics including the buying of weapons. In 2003, he became the military leader in charge of overseeing field operations. The FDLR is accused of massacres, summary executions and brutal rapes.

Known by his codename of “Pharaoh”, Mudacumura’s fighters taxed local villages, creating a revenue stream that has allowed him to send his family to Europe. Ms Omaar’s report states that his wife and son live in France, where his son attended a university near Paris.

In a 2010 interview with The Associated Press, Ntaganda vigorously denied the allegations and said he did not fear arrest on the ICC charges.

“I don’t think that the UN is able to arrest me in Congo because they have arms that I also have and that can protect me when they try to arrest me,” he said. “If it is established that I committed crimes, I won’t hesitate to answer them to a court in my country. But I will never accept answering charges by the International Court.”

Pressure has been mounting for Ntaganda’s arrest since the International Criminal Court convicted another Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga, in March of using child soldiers, the first judgment in the court’s 10-year history.—AP

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