Antoine Sanfuentes/NBC NewsWire/AP
General Laurent Nkunda

Tutsi General Arrested in Congolese-Rwandan Campaign Against Rebels

January 23, 2009 02:30 PM
by Josh Katz
Authorities have captured Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda as part of a joint Rwandan-Congolese military operation against rebels in Congo.

Forces Arrest General Nkunda in Rwanda

Rwandan soldiers have arrested Tutsi rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda, their former ally, in a joint Congolese-Rwandan campaign against rebels. Troops moved in on his base camp on Thursday in eastern Congo, but he escaped to Rwanda, where he was apprehended last night.

Nkunda’s arrest was most likely part of a deal between Congo and Rwanda that allowed Rwandan forces to enter Congo in pursuit of the Hutu rebel group called Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLP),  independent analyst Jason Stearns told Bloomberg.

The International Herald Tribune reports that it is “unclear whether Nkunda's apprehension would make him vulnerable to an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for atrocities committed during his years of fighting in eastern Congo.” The most recent crime committed by the the Tutsi general, who is widely “seen as a proxy for Rwanda,” occurred in November, when his forces killed civilians and displaced 30,000 people in Kiwanja.

Nkunda has been leading a Congolese Tutsi rebel group called the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). Nkunda rebelled against the government in 2004 because the Congolese army was loath to vigorously pursue the FDLP Hutu rebel group, according to MSNBC.

The Christian Science Monitor indicates that General Bosco Ntaganda, Nkunda’s former chief of staff, is actually the new leader of the CNDP, although Nkunda denies this. Like Nkunda, Ntaganda has been accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Congo and Rwanda Pursue Hutu Rebels

The arrest of Tutsi rebel leader Nkunda appears to be part of a larger mission to rout Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Agence France-Presse reports that approximately 4,000 Rwandan soldiers have entered the Democratic Republic of Congo since Tuesday as part of the effort.

Hutu rebels escaped to Congo after participating in the genocide of Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994, and have generated conflict in the country ever since. According to AFP, an estimated 6,000 FDLR fighters are believed to be in the region.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila has angered many members of his parliament by not notifying them about the joint mission with Rwandan troops beforehand, the BBC reports.

Congolese authorities have claimed that the current mission would last 10 to 15 days, but The Christian Science Monitor suggests that the campaign will probably take much longer and result in a large number of civilian casualties because of the FDLR’s tendency to use guerilla tactics.

Guillaume Lacaille, a Congo expert at the International Crisis Group, also tells the Monitor that the profitable mines and resources in the region could entice the Rwandan forces to stay longer. “When you consider the natural resources in this territory," says Lacaille, “it is difficult to withdraw without guarantees that one will continue to benefit from those resources.”

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Background: Rwanda’s war against Hutus in Congo

Rwandan Hutus escaped to Congo in 1994 after the genocide; by 1996, their leaders had initiated cross-border attacks into Rwanda against Tutsis. In response, Rwanda invaded Congo in 1996 and again in 1998 to seek out members of the FDLR. Rwandan forces marched on Kinshasa, the capital of Congo, and installed Laurent Kabila as president in 1997.

Kabila ejected the Rwandan Tutsis in 1998 in order to “prove his independence,” according to MSNBC. A few days later, Rwanda and Uganda launched an offensive against Congo in a “war that drew in half a dozen African nations and lasted until 2002.”

Congo created a unity government after 2002 that incorporated rebels into positions of leadership. In 2006, Laurent Kabila’s son Joseph won the presidential elections.

Historical Context: Conflict and genocide in Rwanda

According to the BBC, the Tutsi minority held power over the Hutu majority until 1959, when 200,000 Tutsis fled the country because of civil war. Since then, there have been several incidences of Hutus killing Tutsis on a wide scale, with the largest massacre occurring in 1994.

On April 6, 1994, a plane crash killed Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundi leader Cyprien Ntaryamira, sparking assassination rumors and setting off deadly ethnic violence. Violence quickly erupted in Rwanda; Hutus began attacking Tutsis, despite the presence of a 2,400-member UN peacekeeping force. According to PBS, the next 100 days saw the fastest rate of mass killings in the 20th century, with some 800,000 people murdered. About two million Hutus fled to Zaire, which would become the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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