Congolese rebel warlord Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, wanted for crimes against humanity including mass rape, surrendered to UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday.
Sheka was arrested in Mutongo, in the country’s North Kivu region by UN peacekeepers and was “transferred to Goma,” the regional capital, his spokeswoman told AFP.
The UN’s peacekeeping mission in DR Congo MONUSCO said in a statement that Sheka handed himself in “in full awareness of the fact that he is wanted by the government… to stand trial for alleged crimes”.
Authorities issued the warrant for Sheka’s arrest in 2011 after an attack in which the militia under his command and two other groups allegedly raped nearly 400 people in 13 villages between July 30 and August 2, 2010.
His soldiers are accused of razing almost 1,000 homes and businesses and leading about 100 people off into forced labour.
Due to the rape accusations and other acts that could constitute crimes against humanity, Sheka had been subject to UN sanctions including the freezing of his assets and a worldwide travel ban.
“Thousands of civilians in eastern Congo have been harmed by crimes committed by troops under Sheka’s command, and many still fear future attacks,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) central Africa director Ida Sawyer said in a statement.
“His surrender brings hope for justice and a possible reprieve from the violence.”
Some of the worst attacks by Sheka’s forces occurred between August 2012 and November 2013 in and around the town of Pinga.
His Mai Mai fighters abducted dozens of women and girls, many of whom are still being held hostage as sex slaves, HRW said.
He had almost been arrested several times, but has always avoided capture with the help, on at least one occasion, of a tip off from sources inside the Congolese army, HRW said.
The government and UN representatives also met with him on three separate occasions since 2013 to encourage him to surrender and take note of his demands.
Sawyer, for HRW, warned that there was a serious risk that some of Sheka’s former collaborators would try to silence him.
“Sheka’s chief of staff died under mysterious circumstances in prison following his arrest in 2011,” he noted.