What does Congo's Gen. Nkunda want?
An ordained preacher and rebel group commander, Gen. Laurent Nkunda is threatening to draw other nations into a war in eastern Congo.
Johannesburg, South Africa
Gen. Laurent Nkunda, the man laying siege to the eastern Congolese city of Goma, is full of contradictions. He's a successful military commander, almost unbeatable on the battlefield, but he has almost no political future. He's an ordained Adventist preacher, who court-martials soldiers who engage in rape; yet his military chief of staff is a wanted war criminal.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
All he wants to do is talk, Gen. Nkunda says. But if the government of Congolese President Joseph Kabila refuses to talk, Nkunda threatens to widen the war and topple President Kabila. He welcomes African peacekeepers if they come as neutrals in a humanitarian mission, but if they fight alongside the Congolese Army (FARDC), he promises to fight them.
"If they come in and fight alongside the FARDC," he told Reuters news agency in a phone interview, "they will share the same shame as the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] government."
Nkunda is by no means the only warlord in the DRC, and human rights observers say the Congolese Army and other armed groups have committed as many atrocities against civilians as Nkunda's men have. But in the two months since Nkunda launched his latest foray against the Congolese government, hundreds of civilians have died in the crossfire, and more than 250,000 others have been displaced from their homes. It's war of a very personal sort, and the more territory Nkunda takes, the more determined the Congolese government seems to defeat him, rather than talk.
"This is not going anywhere quickly, but it is going somewhere bad," says Henri Boshoff, a senior analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane, South Africa. "Unless the military forces can be convinced to stop fighting, and unless there is international pressure to get Nkunda and Kabila to start talking, we're in for a bad time."
Over the weekend, regional leaders meeting in Nairobi called for an end to the fighting, and vowed to send in peacekeepers to help the UN's own 17,000-man force to restore peace. "The Great Lakes Region will not stand by to witness incessant and destructive acts of violence by any armed group against innocent people of DRC; if and when necessary, the [Great Lakes Region] will send peacemaking forces into the Kivu province of DRC," said the leaders in a statement released.
The Great Lakes Region includes Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, and the DRC. Another regional group, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), also offered to send in peacekeepers at a separate meeting in Johannesburg.
"SADC should immediately provide assistance to the armed forces of DRC," said SADC executive secretary-general Tomaz Salomoa. "The security situation in DRC is affecting peace and stability in the SADC and Great Lakes region."