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Rights group says wanted Congo criminal walks free

A former Congolese warlord accused of conscripting child soldiers walks freely and is serving in the Congolese military despite a warrant for his arrest, an international rights group said Wednesday.

Bosco Ntaganda was first indicted on war crimes charges in 2006 by the International Criminal Court, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands. The court has accused Ntaganda of using child soldiers for fighting in Ituri, in northeastern Congo, from 2002 to 2003.

The United Nations also has implicated Ntaganda in the 2008 massacre in the village of Kiwanja in Congo's North Kivu province. More than 150 people were killed by rebels under Ntaganda's command, according to a U.N. report.

Ntaganda vigorously denied the allegations in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday and said he did not fear arrest on the ICC charges.

"I don't think that the U.N. 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," he said.

Human Rights Watch has called for the Congolese government to arrest Ntaganda immediately, but Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said the group should direct its demand to the country's judiciary.

"The duty to arrest warlord Bosco Ntaganda belongs to the country's courts, not the government," Mende said on Wednesday. "There is separation of power in Congo where the government doesn't deal with executing warrants for the arrest of citizens like Ntaganda."

However, Justice Minister Bambi Luzolo told reporters last week that the warrant for Ntaganda's arrest will not be honored because Congo already has handed over a number of former warlords — more than any other country in the world, he said.

"The ICC should first look for the accused elsewhere in the world," Bambi said, "and not keep asking Congo."

Congo has decided to stop arresting those indicted by the Hague until the government can establish that the International Criminal Court is also pursuing people in other countries, according to Bambi.

Former Rwandan warlord Callixte Mbarushimana was arrested in Paris on Monday on a warrant issued by The Hague. Mbarushimana is accused of war crimes committed against the people of Congo in 2009 that included murder and rape.

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Associated Press writer Patrice Citera in Kinshasa, Congo contributed to this report.