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Rwanda Arrests Congo Rebel Leader

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Rwanda Arrests Congo Rebel Leader


Rwanda Arrests Congo Rebel Leader

Rwanda Arrests Congo Rebel Leader

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A Congolese military spokesman says the Rwandan army has arrested Congo rebel leader Laurent Nkunda. The spokesman says Nkunda resisted being taken into custody by a joint Rwandan-Congolese force before he was arrested.


This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne. There has been no shortage of rebels and warlords to keep the long-running conflicts in the Congo going. Today, the most prominent of them was captured. He's been waging a brutal war in the eastern part of the country. NPR's Gwen Thompkins has been covering that story, and she joins us from Nairobi. And Gwen, who has been arrested? And tell us about him.

GWEN THOMPKINS: Well, General Laurent Nkunda has been arrested. He is the Congolese Tutsi who is the leader, or had been the leader, of a rebel organization that, in August, began a major push, a major offensive, in Eastern Congo. That offensive, you know, resulted in the Congolese Tutsi rebel group taking over many of the major cities and trading posts in Eastern Congo. But it also resulted in the deaths of many, many people in Eastern Congo, and the displacement of an estimated 250,000 people.

MONTAGNE: You met Nkunda late last year at one of his camps. Tell us about his style of leadership.

THOMPKINS: Well, this is a man who spent a lot of time burnishing his image as not only a great military leader, but also, Renee, as a great statesman. You know, when I saw him, he was carrying his trademark, silver-tipped cane, and he was dressed so sharply, Renee, that he could have attended one of those Washington inaugural balls this week just in his fatigues. I mean, they were pressed and starched so beautifully. And he was sort of - you know, he's been described by his own men, actually, as something of a megalomaniac. He did not delegate authority very well. He liked to be front and center. He loved to talk to the press. And you know, even in recent peace talks, he gave his delegation very little authority to make any decisions without him. And I believe that his men began to chafe under that kind of leash. And also, they began to think about their own futures irrespective of General Nkunda. And in the end, many of them, many of his top lieutenants, abandoned him in recent weeks and started up a rival, splinter rebel organization. That weakened Nkunda and right now, he has about - an estimated 2,000 soldiers who are still behind him. But no one really knows what will happen next, whether those soldiers are going to fight for him or whether they're going to find something else to do with themselves.

MONTAGNE: Gwen, thanks very much.

THOMPKINS: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Gwen Thompkins, speaking from Nairobi in neighboring Kenya.

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Congolese Rebel Leader Captured in Rwanda

Congolese 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