DAKAR, SENEGAL — A Congolese general already sought on an international arrest warrant for his reputed use of child soldiers during an earlier conflict has forcibly recruited an additional 149 boys and teenagers since April, according to a Human Rights Watch investigation published Wednesday.
The children and teens were abducted from their homes and schools, from fields and the sides of roads in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were beaten if they resisted, complained or walked too slowly, according to the report.
Several of the boys said that once they joined the ranks, they were forced to walk in front so that they would be the first to be ambushed or shot at.
Once a feared warlord, Bosco Ntaganda joined the Congolese army in 2009 as a general following a peace deal that paved the way for him and his men to be integrated into the military.
He was allowed to live freely in the provincial capital of Goma, where he played tennis and dined at top restaurants despite an International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment for war crimes said to have been committed by troops under his command in 2003, including the forced recruitment of children.
Last month, however, the agreement between the former warlord and the Congolese government disintegrated, and he and his troops defected.
He is thought to be the force behind a new rebel group that now is fighting the Congolese government in the district of Masisi in Congo's wild east, a zone of thick jungle cut by skinny trails.
Human Rights Watch estimates that between 300 and 600 soldiers followed Gen. Ntaganda in his mutiny. Since mid-April, they have forcibly recruited an additional 149 boys and young men ranging in age between 12 and 20.
"Bosco Ntaganda is once again committing the very crimes against children for which the Hague-based ICC has been demanding his arrest," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The U.N. estimates that at least 45,000 people have since fled their homes as a result of the fighting, including across the border into Rwanda.
Gen. Ntaganda has been sought by the ICC since 2006 in connection with war crimes, including the use of child soldiers in active combat in 2002 and 2003 in the Congolese district of Ituri, where he led another armed group.
It was only after his defection from the army in April that Congolese President Joseph Kabila made a speech suggesting that the Congolese government would consider arresting Gen. Ntaganda, reversing years of refusal to do so on the grounds that Gen. Ntaganda was necessary for the peace process.
This week, the chief prosecutor of the ICC announced that he is seeking an expanded indictment against Gen. Ntaganda, which will include additional charges of murder, persecution based on ethnic grounds, rape, sexual slavery, and pillaging in connection with his activities in Ituri in 2002 and 2003.