Mystery deepens as Nkunda chapter is ‘closed’

SECRECY: Instead of treating him like other criminals who cross borders armed and illegally, a general softly-spoken consensus among Rwandans is that his life is more ‘precious’ than that

Congolese soldiers patrol the town of Rutshuru in eastern Congo on January 28. Plans to integrate Tutsi rebels into Congo’s army faltered before they could begin, underlining the challenges facing efforts to pacify the east despite renewed Congo-Rwanda co-operation. Photo/REUTERS 

BY JOSH KRON

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Calling “the chapter on Nkunda closed,” the last Rwandan public official communicating to the outside world about the excommunicated Congolese rebel under their custody said today it was going off the radar.

After promising new information, the Rwandan military has instead fallen silent, this time they say for good, in regard to apprehension of General Laurent Nkunda, leader of the dominant rebel group, the National Congress for the People’s Defence (CNDP).

This chapter may have closed, but this is a story still unfolding.

The Congolese government, upon whose soil Nkunda, a Congolese citizen, launched a bloody rebellion in 2008, has publicly called on its neighbour and supposed co-partner in arresting him to hand him over to Kinshasa.

But Rwanda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denies even receiving official requests.

Late on Wednesday, the spokesperson for the Rwandan army said “things were being discussed,” and that they would “talk soon.”

By Thursday morning, events had turned pointedly, with Rwanda Defence Force spokesperson Major Jill Rutaremara, stating that nothing more on the subject would be said.

“It is not my business any more,” said Mr Rutaremara. “The chapter with Nkunda is closed, we will be speaking about it no more.”

Nkunda, who worked alongside, but not necessarily under, the Rwandan government and military in the late 1990s in Congo as part of the Rally for Congolese Democracy, was said to still be supported by the Rwandan government in a December 2008 United Nations report.

Though strongly denying the accusation, the government of Rwanda has repeatedly turned down opportunities to defuse the growing sense that intimate associations exist.

Multiple sources in the Rwandan city of Gisenyi have said Nkunda has been spotted moving freely around town, though he may not be allowed to leave the city.

Rwanda Defence Force spokesperson Maj Rutaremara has said Nkunda’s “movements are limited,” and that he is in fact in Gisenyi, opposite the Congolese city of Goma the Tutsi general once threatened.

Now, Nkunda has been “pushed out of business in Congo,” according to one source remaining anonymous in Kigali, but is enjoying his days in Rwanda, peacefully and comfortably.
“He’s the type of person who will hurt you if you hurt him.”

So instead of treating him like other criminals who cross borders armed and illegally, a general soft-spoken consensus among many Rwandans is that his life is more “precious” than that.

His days are said to be spent at around the Lake Kivu city, and one source spotted Nkunda at the La Corniche café.

But this has not been independently confirmed.

What has been independently confirmed is that the Rwandan government has fallen into a game of political “hot potato,” passing responsibility for the arrest from ministry to ministry, with the military, under whose authority Nkunda supposedly remains, deferring virtually all questions to either the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of Justice.

But senior officials in those ministries have hung up telephones in the middle of conversations, calling upon journalists “to stop harassing” them.

All signs now point to a small and highly concentrated nexus of the country’s elite, most likely between the executive and military, deciding Nkunda’s fate, going beyond normal legal protocol and verging into the realm of the highly political.

Nkunda resides in a legal limbo — in protective — if not disciplinary custody — of a country that spoke volumes to disassociate itself from the Tutsi rebel, only to see silence over his arrest all but confirm a relationship.

The Rwandan army, although arresting a resistant and armed Nkunda after “illegally crossing borders,” has refused to give him a legal classification and says that “he is not being punished.”

“He is a human being,” Maj Rutaremara says. “Why punish him?”

Other human beings, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, derivative forces of Hutu extremists that committed genocide in Rwanda against a million Tutsi and other moderates, are being rounded up by the Rwandan military in the Congo every day.

Thousands upon thousands are disarming and returning. Thursday’s edition of Rwandan daily The New Times declared victory against the FDLR in its editorial. “The hey day of the insurgents is over.”

Photographs of former Hutu rebels are paraded across the newspapers, accompanying headlines such as “region steadily stabilises.”

And Nkunda, the enemy of Rwanda’s enemy, is silently swept under the rug, and officials are forbidden to speak on the subject, in the hope that all will be forgotten.

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