Africa, Latest News, World news — January 24, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Congolese Rebel Leader Is Arrested

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Rwanda arrests Congo rebel leader Nkunda (image by CSMonitor.com).
Rwanda arrests Congo rebel leader Nkunda (image by CSMonitor.com).

Congolese Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda has been arrested by Congolese and Rwandan forces. Nkunda’s rebel forces exacerbated the turmoil in eastern Congo late last year, displacing 250,000 people. His actions prompted some of his own commanders to turn against him.

Transcript


ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I’m Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I’m Michele Norris. In the past few months, the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been the site of widespread violence and a humanitarian disaster. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were trapped in the crossfire between the Congolese army, a variety of militias and rebels led by the Tutsi Ethnic group. Those rebels and their powerful leader, Laurent Nkunda, control much of the region. But today, Nkunda is under arrest. NPR’s Gwen Thompkins explains the significance of this one man.

GWEN THOMPKINS: Some generals have a knack for dramatic effect. Napoleon Bonaparte used to bring portrait artists on his military campaigns so they could capture him looking his best as he trounced whomever he was trouncing on a particular day. George Washington designed his own uniforms, and General Laurent Nkunda, the Congolese Tutsi rebel leader, knew how to strike a pose almost better than Madonna. He wore the nicest fatigues, carried a silver-tipped cane, preened for the cameras, danced a little bit, and played both victor and victim with reporters. Nkunda’s rebels thrashed the Congolese army late last year. He said he was taking over much of Eastern Congo to protect the area’s Tutsi minority from Hutu militias that have taken part in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Back in November, Nkunda told reporters that he’s had to sacrifice family life to save his tribe in Eastern Congo.

Gen. LAURENT NKUNDA (Rebel Leader, Tutsi): I’m not with my family, I’m not with my children. I have six children. I’m suffering.

THOMPKINS: Trouble was, the Nkunda-lead rebellion helped destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Most remained displaced. Francois Grignon is a chief analyst with the International Crisis Group in Nairobi. He’s been watching Nkunda for years. Grignon says that one of the general’s favorite words is genocidaire. He means someone who supports genocide against Tutsis.

Mr. FRANCOIS GRIGNON (Chief Analyst, International Crisis Group): You know, from Nkunda, anybody not supporting him is a genocidaire. If you don’t feed his men, you are genocidaire, if you don’t, you know, let your daughter being raped by his men, you are genocidaire. This is the logic and of course, he himself is never responsible for, you know, any, any of the problems of the country.

THOMPKINS: To be fair, all of the parties involved in the conflict are believed to have perpetrated war crimes. Nkunda denies any wrongdoing, but he says civilians must suffer for the cause.

Gen. NKUNDA: That’s the cost of freedom. You have to suffer for sometimes and be free forever.

THOMPKINS: But part of what made Nkunda doubly dangerous to the Congolese government is that he apparently had the support of the Tutsi-led government in neighboring Rwanda. The international community has reportedly been pressuring Rwanda to stop Nkunda, so the Rwandan and Congolese government took away in Nkunda’s reason for fighting. They created their own, combined force to destroy Hutu militias in Eastern Congo. And on Thursday night, the joint force reportedly went after the general himself. Nkunda then crossed into Rwanda, where he was arrested. But whether these events lower the curtain on the general is another matter entirely. The Rwandan government is reportedly concerned that Nkunda may make dramatic revelations exposing Rwanda’s full involvement with the rebels, and with Congo’s lucrative, illegal mineral trade. Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Nairobi.

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Congolese Rebel Leader Captured in Rwanda

Congolese Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda has been arrested by Congolese ongolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda was arrested in neighboring Rwanda on Friday after a joint military exercise between the two countries to capture the Tutsi fugitive, military officials said.

Rwandan and Congolese soldiers converged Thursday on Nkunda’s stronghold in the Congolese town of Bunagana, said Capt. Olivier Hamuli, a spokesman for the joint force. But Nkunda, who has led a rebellion in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since 2004, fled south, crossing into Rwanda, where he was taken into custody, he said. The Rwandan military confirmed the account.

The militaries said Nkunda was detained after three battalions of his fighters failed to resist the joint operation. In it, 3,500 Rwandan troops crossed the border into Congo, marking an unprecedented level of cooperation between the two countries after a decade of mutual suspicion.

Nkunda led an offensive last year that embarrassed the Congo government. His rebels were more disciplined and better trained than the Congolese army, and they soon controlled access to the regional capital of Goma.

Nkunda said he was defending Congo’s Tutsi minority from Hutus who had taken part in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Initially, he appeared to have the backing of Rwanda’s Tutsi-led government.

But a United Nations report last month linked Rwanda to the rebel group. International donors to Rwanda pressured that country to put an end to the Nkunda rebellion, which has displaced more than 250,000 people.

Since his capture, Congo’s government said it would seek Nkunda’s extradition for war crimes.

Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende called Nkunda’s arrest “a positive development for pacifying and securing the region,” and offered hope Rwanda would extradite him to face trial. Congo issued an international warrant against Nkunda in 2005 for alleged war crimes and human rights abuses.

Conflict in eastern Congo had been simmering for decades and exploded when Hutu perpetrators of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide escaped across the border into Congo.

Rwanda first invaded Congo in 1996, attacking refugee camps that served as havens for ethnic Hutu officials and militias who orchestrated the genocide. Congo’s government ordered Rwandan troops to leave in 1998, but Rwanda invaded again days later, propping up a new Congolese rebel group at the start of Congo’s 1998-2002 war, a conflict that drew in a half-dozen African nations.

Nkunda’s detention could spell the end of one of the region’s most powerful rebel factions, which was recently split by a leadership dispute. His leadership of his Tutsi National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) rebel group has been challenged by dissident rebel commanders, who last week ended hostilities with the Congolese government.

Wars, rebellions and ethnic violence since 1998 have killed more than 5 million Congolese, holding back development of the huge former Belgian colony in central Africa. It’s rich in minerals such as copper, cobalt, gold and uranium.

From staff and wire reports

Author

  • Gwen Thompkins

    Gwen Thompkins is NPR foreign correspondent covering East Africa. She was based in Nairobi, Kenya, reporting on the countries, people and happenings from the Horn to the heart of Africa. Since arriving in Africa in 2006, Thompkins has reported on the toppling of the Islamic Courts Union government in Somalia, ethnic violence in Kenya, insecurity in Darfur and Sudan's first nationwide elections in a generation. She has also written a series on the Nile River, traveling from the shores of Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean Sea. Heading south, she has reported stories from South Africa and Antarctica.

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