Rwanda and DRC have set in motion high-level negotiations over the return of warlord Gen Laurent Nkunda after a deal on Monday in which the government ceded too much ground to the Gen Nkunda’s former fighters.
Rwanda Foreign Affairs Minister, Rosemary Museminali, was set to meet with her DRC counterpart Alexis Tambwe Mwamba on Thursday, with teams representing security, diplomacy and justice to discuss bilateral cooperation on a number of fronts, including Gen Nkunda’s fate.
Consultations on Gen Nkunda’s release and extradition to Congo – for which the Congolese have sent official requests – have been going on since his arrest in January, but only picked up pace in late February.
Negotiations proper were first set for the middle of March but were pushed back by the Congolese side.
Gen Nkunda is the Congolese ethnic Tutsi warlord with national ambitions and a mighty punch. He had been fighting from one of Congo’s richest provinces and the most troubled in country— North Kivu and has been in Rwandan custody since crossing the border on January 22, days after Congo and Rwanda launched unprecedented military operations.
Since then, some interesting things have happened. Firstly, the Hutu-extremist Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) whom Rwanda and Congo – and Nkunda’s CNDP – were fighting has regrouped and is attacking civilians after Rwanda and DRC abandoned the joint operations.
This has had security implications since DRC is yet to have Gen Nkunda in its custody while the FDLR threat is far from neutralised.
The Congolese army has not been very helpful either and civilians are fleeing by thousands. This time not from Nkunda’s CNDP but a resurgent FDLR, which has recaptured three out of the five bases from the government troops known more for their delinquency and rape rather than fighting the enemy.
And Rwanda has been watching the deteriorating condition. “We have men stationed to do this,” says military spokesperson Major Jill Rutaremara.
But the matter is more complex.
“It shouldn’t be blown out of proportion,” says Mauricio Guliano, spokesperson for UN OCHA.
“Many of the displaced are re-displaced, but is that better? He wonders.
But as far as improving security and humanitarian situations goes, little has changed.
The second development is the Monday evening peace deal with Nkunda’s former fighters (CNDP) and the Congolese government.
The CNDP, which stopped major assaults in November 2008, became pro-Kinshasa in an early January internal coup and lost its star later that month when Nkunda crossed over to Rwanda, where his status is not very clear with the government maintaining that he is a guest.
In the deal, the CNDP was promised the release of all prisoners taken in the war, was accorded a political party status and an all-important clause granting amnesty to all its members who fought since 2003.
That would include Gen Nkunda, who is wanted for war crimes by Kinshasa.
All this has been happening in the foreground of Rwanda’s diplomatic blitz in the past three months.
Nkunda’s attack on North Kivu last October was a symbol of all that was wrong with the Great Lakes: Blood minerals, proxy wars, bitter resentment and cyclic retaliations, and the sick man of Africa —the DRC dying faster by the day.
Most of all, it was evidence that violence was the way to riches.
That has changed.
For whichever reasons, a United Nations report accusing Rwanda of supporting Gen Nkunda; aid cuts and threats from donors besides Nkunda’s cartoonish and destabilising personality have forced Rwanda and Congo to take care of the security problem themselves. Or maybe time was just ripe for action.
Gen Nkunda’s “detention” by Rwanda has been enshrouded in secrecy with little information given out and fewer reasons as to his arrest or legal status.
Early this month, Gen Nkunda’s wife sued for his release in a Kigali court, with her lawyer claiming that the husband was being ‘unlawfully detained.’ But Rwanda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is spearheading the negotiations, says that Gen Nkunda was a “guest” of Rwanda. President Paul Kagame has said as much adding that the general has, in fact, seen his family. On Wednesday Kigali hinted that Gen Nkunda could be repartriated but with in a well considered time frame.
“General Nkunda is a Congolese. His return place has to be DRC, but we agreed that we need to look at how this was done so that it does not jeopardise the kinds of gains that we’ve been able to arrive at,” Rwandan Foreign Minister Rosemary Museminali told reporters in Cape Town.
All the same, without Gen Nkunda, the National Congress for the People’s Defense has extracted major concessions from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The peace deal signed on Monday evening in Goma also promises the former fighters policing agreements and general amnesty. As for the rebels, they undertook to end hostilities. This was already happening by the end of last year before Nkunda was ousted, anyway.
It all seems a little odd.
“They promised us amnesty,” said the new CNDP chairman Desire Kamanzi.
The CNDP sprang up to fill the security vacuum created when Rwanda and Uganda pulled out of Congo after a five-year war since 1998.
Residual forces from that front, including Gen Nkunda, stayed in Congo and gradually formed the National Congress for the People’s Defense, which first raped, murdered and pillaged before the general discovered the power of personality and basked in the limelight between 2007 and 2008.
Calling himself the protector of the Tutsi from the FDLR (the Hutu-centric rebels responsible for the 1994 Rwandan Genocide) the CNDP almost captured the vastly rich North Kivu Province.
“He may have stopped listening to his mentors,” United Nations envoy and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo said of Gen Nkunda.
Gen Nkunda was arrested by Rwanda two days into a joint-military operation with the Congo to flush out the FDLR.
Significantly, Rwanda has said that too much attention was being paid to Gen Nkunda at the expense of matters regarding common security, energy and trade agreements which are more important to the two countries.
But the CNDP-DRC peace deal isn’t cotton-clean.
CNDP’s new leader, Bosco Ntaganda, accused of massacring 150 people in a village during the height of the insurrection last year, will most likely also be granted amnesty.
The big question is: Why would Kinshasa give so much for so little in return from some of its most ruthless enemies?