Rwanda: The Mysterious Mister Nkunda


February 23, 2009: Where is former Congolese general Laurent Nkunda? Since his arrest (or, alleged arrest) by Rwandan forces operating in the Congo, the word is he is being held in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. The Congolese government wants him extradited to the Congo, or at least claims to want him extradited. The Rwandan government says that Nkunda is Congolese and he will be “returned” to the Congo eventually. What happens if and when Nkunda returns to the Congo? That remains to be seen. Many Congolese believe Nkunda is responsible for keeping the war going in eastern Congo. That is a big stretch, but the perception is there; Nkunda might serve as a scapegoat. However, actually trying Nkunda in Kinshasa might have political repercussions among Congolese Tutsis that the Kabila government doesn’t want. Even though the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia still has forces operating in eastern Congo, the deal brokered between Rwanda and Congo looks pretty good. Congo got Nkunda off the immediate political and military landscape. Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) is now run by Congolese Tutsis who want to strike a deal with the Congolese government. Rwanda has hammered the FDLR (whose leaders were involved in the 1994 genocide) and has a new “alliance relationship” with Congo. Rwanda and Congo, however, continue to insist that Nkunda’s arrest was not “linked” to the Congolese agreement launch a joint attack against the FDLR. (And if you believe that we’ve a bridge to sell you running from Manhattan to Brooklyn.)

In the eastern Congo, Rwandan troops have been seen pulling back towards the border. The Rwandan government has said it would have its troops out of Congo by the end of February, or thereabouts.

February 15, 2009: Mediators in Burundi have had a tough months trying to get the government and representatives of the FNL-PALIPEHUTU to firm up their peace agreement. The PALIPEHUTU faction is once again insisting that it get to keep its name as it transitions to a political party. The name is an acronym for “party for the liberation of the Hutu people” and the government objects to ethnic parties. There are other problems. The original peace agreement promised to demobilize Forces for National Liberation fighters (of various FNL factions). The total number is around 20,000 and mediators report the demobilization process is “going slowly.” Major elections are scheduled for 2010, but some mediators fear that the FNL-PALIPEHUTU could “head for the bush” once again in 2009 – and rekindle the civil war.

February 10, 2009: International observers monitoring the Rwanda-Congo joint operation against the FDLR hope that the Rwanda-Congo action will “intimidate” FDLR militiamen and they will disarm without further fighting. The UN believes that very few “Interahame genocidaires” actually remain in Congo. Many Rwandan Hutus who fled Rwanda after 1994 have “assimilated” into Congolese society and have warned Rwanda and Congo against indiscriminate attacks.

February 1, 2009: The Rwandan government said that its troops which are operating in Congo against the FDLR will pull out by the end of February. The Rwandan force is still called an “observer force” but is carrying out military operations inside the Congo.

A statement by the Congolese government indicated that it did not expect former general Laurent Nkunda (under arrest in Rwanda) to be extradited to Congo “soon” but that would come in time.





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