Why Rwanda turned against Nkunda

Congo expert says split in CNDP prompted move against Congolese rebel leader Nkunda.

     Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda has been accused by the Congolese government of war crimes [AFP]

    Henri Boshoff, an analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa and an expert on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), speaks to Al Jazeera about the arrest of General Laurent Nkunda, the leader of the Tutsi-dominated national Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP).

    Boshoff talks about tthe implications of the joint operation by the Rwandan and Congolese armies to hunt down the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), a rivial Hutu rebel group to the CNDP, whose members have been hiding in the DRC for 14 years after orchestrating the 1994 Rwandan genocide of Tutsis.

    Al Jazeera: It seems this joint operation between DRC and Rwanda is quite unprecedented. What has actually happened for these two neighbours who have been suspicious of each other, if not enemies, for many years to now work together?

    Well, it came as a surprise to everybody. I think the start of this co-operation was a month ago.

    There was an indication that there was a possible split within the CNDP.

    The CNDP chief of staff had indicated that he didn't agree any more with the policies of General Nkunda.

    The possible split in the CNDP had given an indication to the Congolese government that this is the time, maybe, to address the Nkunda issue. We also know that last Friday an agreement was signed between the government of the DRC and the breakaway faction under the leadership of chief of staff General John Bosco [Ntaganda] and all military commanders. Within three days, the Rwandans were crossing the border and were in the DRC.

    The Congolese government started talking to the Rwandan government on December 4 last year and agreed to carry out a joint operation against the FDLR.

    With a split in the CNDP, did Rwanda see Nkunda as a liability that needed to be dealt with right now?

    I think the concern was that Nkunda was becoming too ambitious [with] remarks that he was not interested any more in the stability and protection of the minority in North Kivu, but was interested in the whole of the DRC. He was saying he will protect the people of the DRC.

    I think that was of concern to Rwanda and this opportunity of a possible split in the CNDP prompted Rwanda to get rid of Nkunda.

    There had been a great deal of international pressure in 2008 to solve this problem. Can you give us an idea of how much pressure has been put on Rwanda and DRC to sort the CNDP and Nkunda out?

    President [Paul] Kagame [of Rwanda] has always said that Nkunda is a Congolese problem. But there were a lot of allegations of support to Nkunda from inside Rwanda.

    I think the beginning of the end was last year when Nkunda overran North Kivu and chased the Congolese army.

    That's why Olusegun Obasanjo [a former president of Nigeria] was appointed by Ban Ki-moon [the UN secretary general] as an envoy to the Great Lakes region. But that process can close down; it's finished. The CNDP has given up and is going to be integrated into the Congolese army.

    What mechanisms are in place, if any, for Nkunda to be extradited to the DRC?

    I was listening to the [Congolese] minister of information Mende [Omalange] and he said they will now contact Rwandan authorities and try to get him extradited to Congo as soon as possible.

    They want to charge him before a military court for high treason and war crimes.

    The concern is that I am not sure if there is any agreement in place between the two countries.

    Secondly, if he is extradited and charged, what will the reaction in the DRC be? I am also concerned that it is not only General Nkunda who has to be charged.

    I think war crimes go back to 2004 and even before 2004, when General Nkunda was in RCD-Goma, one of the military factions. His commander, the current Congolese army chief, General [Gabriel] Amisi, was chief of the military area in Kisangani where people who mutinied were killed and thrown in the river.

    So the question will immediately be asked: What about General Amisi. But also what about Bosco Ntaganda? There is an International Criminal Court warrant of arrest for him.

    How does the UN play a part now? It was relatively inactive during the problems we saw in the DRC in Goma in 2008.

    This is the biggest challenge now to come ... because I think the easy part is now over. Why are the Rwandans in the DRC? They are there to go after the FDLR.

    This is not the first time the Rwandans are in the DRC.

    The Rwandans were in Congo from 1996 to 2002, with more than 20,000 soldiers going after the FDLR and they couldn't get the FDLR.

    Now they have 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers and they say they need 15 to 20 days [to get the FDLR].

    It does not make sense. I don't see how they are going to get the FDLR. The FDLR has been living in the DRC for 14 years. They are married to the Congolese. They have got their children there, and furthermore they also say they are preparing themselves.

    We know what happened last year when General Nkunda and the Congolese army put troops together to go after FDLR. It didn't succeed. It had to be stopped because 250,000 people were displaced and hundreds of people were killed.

    Monuc [the UN peace keeping force in the DRC] is bracing itself for a repeat of that.

    To make matters worse, Monuc is not part at all of this new joint operation. They have not been informed about it, and they are preparing themselves now for human rights violations and they know they have got the mandate and they must protect civilians.

    How are they going to do that? We are going to see tough times in the weeks to come.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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