The Terror Journal

A Journal on Terrorism and Genocide

Congo rebel leader Nkunda arrested in Rwanda

Rwanda and Congo on Friday announced the arrest in Rwandan territory of Congolese Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda during a joint military operation against rebels on their Great Lakes border.

Nkunda has led a Tutsi rebellion in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since 2004 and is wanted for war crimes.

Congo’s government said they would seek Nkunda’s extradition from Rwanda and that his detention could end the activity of one of the most powerful and feared eastern rebel groups, recently split by a leadership dispute.

Congolese and Rwandan military commanders said Nkunda was detained after he and three battalions of his fighters tried to resist the joint Congolese-Rwandan operation which was launched this week to hunt Rwandan Hutu militiamen operating in Congo.

In the operation, marking unprecedented cooperation between the Great Lakes neighbors after years of mutual suspicion and hostility, more than 3,500 Rwandan troops have crossed the border into Congo.

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

“Ex-general Laurent Nkunda was arrested on Thursday, January 22 at 2230 hours while he was fleeing on Rwandan territory after he had resisted our troops at Bunagana with three battalions,” Congolese and Rwandan military commanders said in a statement.

Rwandan military spokesman Jill Rutaremara said Nkunda was being held at Gisenyi by Rwandan authorities.

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A Congolese army colonel, who asked not to be named, said Nkunda and rebels loyal to him had fought against Rwandan and Congolese troops when they arrived on Thursday at Bunagana, a town on the border with Uganda in Congo’s North Kivu province.

But a rebel associate of Nkunda, Jean-Desire Muiti, disputed the account of his arrest, saying the rebel leader had gone to Rwanda late on Thursday after being “called for consultations.”

Congolese Information Minister Lambert Mende told Reuters Congo would seek Nkunda’s extradition.

“There is a Congolese arrest warrant against him. He is Congolese. He committed his crimes in Congo. So it is normal that he would be judged in Congo,” Mende said.

He earlier told the BBC that with the arrest, Nkunda’s rebellion was “over or ending.”

International Criminal Court prosecutors have a war crimes arrest warrant for Bosco Ntaganda, Nkunda’s military chief who broke with him recently and is backing the Congolese-Rwandan operation against the FDLR. But a spokeswoman for the ICC Prosecutor declined to say if Nkunda would be prosecuted.

Many ordinary Congolese welcomed his arrest. “He must be brought back to Congo and face justice for his acts,” said local Congolese pastor Crispin Kombozi.

UK-based charity Save the Children said Nkunda’s arrest could mean the release of up to 1,500 child soldiers.

“There is no way of predicting what will happen over the next couple of days, but Nkunda’s arrest is a real turning point and one we hope will lead to the escape or release of more child soldiers,” country director Gilbert Hascoet said in a statement.

The Hutu FDLR presence in Congo has been a root cause of 15 years of regional violence. Some of their 6,000 fighters took part in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and they have been often pursued by Congolese and Rwandan Tutsi-led forces in Congo’s east.

“Nkunda’s scalp was a prerequisite, politically, for the joint operations about to get under way,” Philippe de Pontet, analyst at the Eurasia Group, said in a note.

Late last year, Nkunda, who said his rebels were fighting to defend Congo’s Tutsi minority against the FDLR, led his CNDP guerrillas in a big anti-government offensive in North Kivu.

The United Nations, which has 17,000-strong peacekeeping force in Congo, fears civilians could suffer in fresh fighting.

Source: Reuters

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