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Rwanda Arrests Congo Rebel Leader Nkunda

BY Admin  January 23, 2009 at 1:19 PM EST

Rebels in Congo

For the past five years, Nkunda has led an eastern Congolese rebel movement that the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government has accused Rwanda of supporting. Nkunda and his fighters have been accused of numerous war crimes. Congo has asked for his extradition, but Rwanda has not yet said if it will comply, according to the BBC.

U.N. investigators published a report last year detailing the extent of support that senior Rwandan authorities allegedly gave Nkunda’s rebellion, which some believe put pressure on Rwanda to act, Reuters reported.

About 4,000 Rwandan soldiers entered Congo this week at the invitation of Congo’s government, marking a shift between the two longtime enemies. The deployment was part of an operation to disarm thousands of mostly Hutu ethnic fighters who fled to Congo after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, according to the Associated Press.

Nkunda took up arms with the backing of Rwanda, saying he had to protect the minority Tutsis from the Hutu militias.

But earlier in January, Nkunda suffered a major blow when his ex-chief of staff Bosco Ntaganda formed a splinter group that would work with Congo’s army to fight the Hutu militias and eventually integrate into the army, reported the AP.

Nkunda has long been involved in the countries’ battles. He fought with Tutsi-led Rwandan forces that stopped the Rwandan genocide 15 years ago and ousted the country’s Hutu government.

He then became a senior commander with the Rwandan-organized Congolese rebel group, which held a large area of the east during Congo’s 1998-2002 civil war.

After the war ended, he joined Congo’s army but left in 2004 to launch his rebellion, the Tutsi National Congress for the Defense of the People.

And in 2005, Congo’s government issued an international warrant for alleged war crimes and human rights abuses, but until now had been unable to arrest him. The internal split in the rebel group appeared to provide an opportunity.

Analysts say Rwandan and Nkunda’s own commanders had grown increasingly irritated with him, viewing him as an authoritarian megalomaniac who allegedly embezzled money from rebel coffers, according to the AP.

The joint Rwandan-Congo force converged Thursday on Nkunda’s stronghold in the Congolese town of Bunagana on the Ugandan border, said Capt. Olivier Hamuli, a spokesman for the joint force.

Nkunda resisted arrest and fled further south into Rwanda, where he was taken into custody, said Hamuli, the AP reported.