On the third day of testimony at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Bosco Ntaganda explained the motivations for his involvement with various rebel groups in Congo. He told judges that he was inspired to spearhead the formation of a new fighting group in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo by the example of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, who he described as starting a rebellion with 27 men and managing to topple the government.
“Museveni is in power because they went into the bush, just 27 people. In the history of the region there’s no one like the 27 fighters,” stated Ntaganda, while testifying at his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. These crimes were allegedly committed while Ntaganda was deputy chief of staff of the militia known as the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).
Ntaganda said in the summer of 2000 he spearheaded the formation of a self-defense militia called Chui Mobile Force, before it transformed into the FPLC, to protect members of the Hema and Tutsi ethnic groups, who had come under severe discrimination and attacks in parts of eastern Congo.
According to the accused, senior officers from the two ethnic groups were expelled from the Rally for Congolese Democracy-Kisangani (RCD-K), a larger rebel movement formed after a fallout among allies in the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL), which governed Congo at the time. Ntaganda had fought with the AFDL and helped it overthrow Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997.
Ntaganda did not say why the two ethnic groups faced persecution within the RCD-K. However, in his testimony yesterday, he stated that some time after taking power, the AFDL government issued a communique that all Tutsis and individuals who resembled Tutsis were “vermin” and had to be killed.
“We were not happy with the discrimination they were practicing,” Ntaganda said today, referring to the RCD-K group. “We were ready to fight and die.” He added that, one time when he was returning from Uganda, where he had gone for treatment after being hit by shrapnel, he saw schools and houses destroyed by the RCD-K militia in several towns including Mahagi.
Ntaganda said he and other members of Chui Mobile Force went on to meet senior Ugandan officials, including current Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda (then a minister for the presidency) and current labor and social development minister Muruli Mukasa (then a minister for security). “We told them we had the support of the civilians,” Ntaganda said. “They said that they themselves, when they were [guerrillas] in the bush, they had support of the civilian population which made it possible for them [to capture power].”
After a particular meeting in Bunia, eastern Congo, which he said was also attended by then Major Leo Kyanda (now a brigadier, and until last December the chief of staff of land forces in the Ugandan army), Uganda allegedly agreed to train Ntaganda and his militia of 150-200 fighters. “The goal was to get training so that we could go back and protect the civilian population. Because when we were in the bush we had expressed our ideology that we needed to protect civilians who were being attacked,” stated Ntaganda.
Defense lawyer Stéphane Bourgon then asked, “You were supposed to go back and protect the civilian population. How were you going to do that?”
“We didn’t talk about any plan at all,” answered Ntaganda. “When we were told that we should go home and protect the population, I didn’t ask whether we were going to go as Chui Mobile Force … when I learnt that we were going to be trained as officers in Uganda, I said this is an opportunity we should seize to improve our skills.”
He said that, in Uganda, his militiamen were trained at the Kyankwanzi military school, while the commanders received additional training at a military school in Jinja town. Ntaganda also stated that, before he was pushed out of the RCD-K, Uganda army soldiers who backed the group “were very close to me” and they espoused the liberation ideology that he believed in.
Thus far, Ntaganda’s testimony has focused on the background of his involvement with armed groups in Rwanda and Congo. His testimony is expected to last for six weeks.
Ntaganda continues his testimony on June 27.