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Congo Rebel Leader Arrested


From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris. In the past few months, the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been the site of widespread violence and a humanitarian disaster. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were trapped in the crossfire between the Congolese army, a variety of militias and rebels led by the Tutsi Ethnic group. Those rebels and their powerful leader, Laurent Nkunda, control much of the region. But today, Nkunda is under arrest. NPR's Gwen Thompkins explains the significance of this one man.

GWEN THOMPKINS: Some generals have a knack for dramatic effect. Napoleon Bonaparte used to bring portrait artists on his military campaigns so they could capture him looking his best as he trounced whomever he was trouncing on a particular day. George Washington designed his own uniforms, and General Laurent Nkunda, the Congolese Tutsi rebel leader, knew how to strike a pose almost better than Madonna. He wore the nicest fatigues, carried a silver-tipped cane, preened for the cameras, danced a little bit, and played both victor and victim with reporters. Nkunda's rebels thrashed the Congolese army late last year. He said he was taking over much of Eastern Congo to protect the area's Tutsi minority from Hutu militias that have taken part in Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Back in November, Nkunda told reporters that he's had to sacrifice family life to save his tribe in Eastern Congo.

Gen. LAURENT NKUNDA (Rebel Leader, Tutsi): I'm not with my family, I'm not with my children. I have six children. I'm suffering.

THOMPKINS: Trouble was, the Nkunda-lead rebellion helped destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Most remained displaced. Francois Grignon is a chief analyst with the International Crisis Group in Nairobi. He's been watching Nkunda for years. Grignon says that one of the general's favorite words is genocidaire. He means someone who supports genocide against Tutsis.

Mr. FRANCOIS GRIGNON (Chief Analyst, International Crisis Group): You know, from Nkunda, anybody not supporting him is a genocidaire. If you don't feed his men, you are genocidaire, if you don't, you know, let your daughter being raped by his men, you are genocidaire. This is the logic and of course, he himself is never responsible for, you know, any, any of the problems of the country.

THOMPKINS: To be fair, all of the parties involved in the conflict are believed to have perpetrated war crimes. Nkunda denies any wrongdoing, but he says civilians must suffer for the cause.

Gen. NKUNDA: That's the cost of freedom. You have to suffer for sometimes and be free forever.

THOMPKINS: But part of what made Nkunda doubly dangerous to the Congolese government is that he apparently had the support of the Tutsi-led government in neighboring Rwanda. The international community has reportedly been pressuring Rwanda to stop Nkunda, so the Rwandan and Congolese government took away in Nkunda's reason for fighting. They created their own, combined force to destroy Hutu militias in Eastern Congo. And on Thursday night, the joint force reportedly went after the general himself. Nkunda then crossed into Rwanda, where he was arrested. But whether these events lower the curtain on the general is another matter entirely. The Rwandan government is reportedly concerned that Nkunda may make dramatic revelations exposing Rwanda's full involvement with the rebels, and with Congo's lucrative, illegal mineral trade. Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Gwen Thompkins
Gwen Thompkins hosts Music Inside Out on WWNO in New Orleans.