alexa Days after General Nkunda's arrest, doubts and disbelief reign in Rwanda - Daily Nation

Days after General Nkunda's arrest, doubts and disbelief reign in Rwanda

Wednesday February 4 2009

Gen Nkunda. Photo/ REUTERS

Gen Nkunda. Photo/ REUTERS  

By JOSH KRON, NATION Correspondent

KIGALI, Wednesday,

Quietude has descended over Kigali, and confusion and suspicion has spread. 

Twelve days after the arrest and subsequent disappearance of popular Congolese rebel Laurent Nkunda at the hands of Rwandan authorities, little light has been shed on the future – or present condition – of the embattled General.

And, people are beginning to wonder if he’s been arrested at all.

Nkunda maintains a Che Guevara-like popularity in Rwanda, where Hutu extremists slaughtered one million Tutsi and other Hutu moderates in the 1994 Genocide.

“He’s been protecting his people in the Congo…” said popular Reggae musician Natty Dread. “I’m sad to see him arrested.”


Mr. Nkunda’s National Congress for the People's Defence (CNDP) claimed to be protecting the Banyamulenge, a group of mostly Congolese Tutsi threatened by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), derivative forces of the extremists responsible for the genocide in Rwanda.

That mission has gained Nkunda an almost legendary status among some here, but others are happy to see him arrested.

Multiple government officials here have condemned Nkunda’s actions in the Congo, and others said they would happily trade the rebel for true peace on Rwanda’s frontiers.

“Nkunda is a thug,” says Eleneus Akanga, a journalist now living in the United Kingdom. “He should be sent to the ICC [International Criminal Court] as soon as possible.”

Others initially were proud of Rwanda for taking a charge against the General. A recent article in The New Times called the arrest proof that a UN report accusing Rwanda of backing the CNDP was false.

But confusion and surprise has quickly manifested itself into suspicion here in Rwanda, where a normally media-shy government has gone into verbal lockdown.

Cast doubts

To some here, Kigali’s silence casts doubts over Nkunda’s arrest, with some claiming in a potion of conspiracy and realpolitik, that the embattled general remains in the Congo.

“That could mean he’s still in the Congo,” says one journalist and former Rwandan military officer who asks not to be named. “Who knows where people are here? They [Rwandan government] could have told him just to keep quiet.”

The Rwandan army, who reportedly apprehended him, has not helped its own cause by shutting down all major conduits of information for the media.

Other than offering snippets of information, not a single photograph, audio or video recording, or any other literature of proof of Nkunda’s arrest has been provided.

As the days drag on, and international media interest in the case begins to wane, scepticism in Kigali residents only grows.

To most, the uninterrupted silence is evidence of a long-suspected intimate relationship between Mr. Nkunda and the Kagame administration.

“Can they give him to the Congo? No. If they give him to the Congo they will kill him,” says Charles Kabonero, editor of the best-selling newspaper in Rwanda.

According to Major Rutaremara, Nkunda has been given no official legal status in relation to his arrest. He is “not being punished,” according to the spokesperson, although Nkunda reportedly both resisted arrest and crossed over an international border illegally and armed.

But Rataremara has also said “arrest does not mean imprisonment,” a line he has repeated. He also says Nkunda is “staying some place decent,” and though his movements are limited, he isn’t necessarily being guarded closely. Amenities such as television have also been alluded to.

But Rwanda maintains that, not only did they never work or back Nkunda during his leadership of the CNDP, but that the Tutsi General was in fact a “barrier to peace.”

The last official word has Nkunda in Gisenyi, just across from the Congolese city of Goma he threatened last October, but multiple journalists in Rwanda are beginning to suspect he has not been arrested at all, and remains in the Congo. Others believe he is living in a home he is suspected to own in Gisenyi, or another property of his in Kigali itself near the Kanombe military barracks.

Sources close to Nkunda says that he is still in possession of a cellular phone and that he has seen members of his family, including his son, Allan.

This has not been independently verified.

Extradite Nkunda

Congo has now twice called on Rwanda to extradite Nkunda, a Congolese citizen, back to Congolese soil where he can await justice for crimes committed against Congolese.

But Permanent Secretary of Rwanda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Rugira Amandin denies receiving an official request.

The Ministry of Justice and Office of the President have kept leaps well sealed, offering virtually zero information about Nkunda, who Rwanda used to work tirelessly to disassociate itself from.

Signs continue to point to a small group, possibly less than five people in total, in control of decision making. Interviews have since indicated that pertinent ministries are not taking a leading role in the processing of the case, and journalists say the Ministry of Defence’s refusal to place formal classification on the General hints at a well-orchestrated artistry of legal limbo as parties involved stall to determine the balance of allegiances and practicality.