Laurent Nkunda has announced his intentions to spread war throughout the nation. During the last month, the leader of the largest rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo has defied the UN and ignored the Goma peace accords he signed in January by clashing repeatedly with government troops. Apparently the dissident general now feels ready to mount a full-scale war.
In a recent BBC interview, dissident general Laurent Nkunda threw gasoline on the fire by calling on Congolese people to “stand up” to the national government, saying his rebel group would “fight until the people are liberated.” Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) has been openly fighting government troops for the past month in direct violation of the Goma peace accords he signed in January.
“We are going to liberate the people of Congo. Our army is well trained; well disciplined,” he told the BBC. While supporters deny it, it appears his intentions are to spread the war throughout the Congo.
The CNDP is believed to be backed by the government of Rwanda. It claims to be protecting the Tsutis who live in the DRC, known as Banyamulenge, against the remnants of the Hutu Interhamwe militia who committed the 1994 Rwandan genocide and fled into Congo, but economic control of the region around Goma seems to be a more immediate goal. The move to widen the conflict may be a gamble to expand his empire or even to seize control of the entire country.
The DRC government issued an international arrest warrant against Nkunda in 2005 for alleged war crimes and Human Rights Watch says his troops have been implicated in widespread killings, torture, and rape.
As the always-fragile peace in the Eastern provinces of the DRC displays new cracks, hundreds of thousands of civilians are again fleeing their homes and farms in scenes reminiscent of my novel, Heart of Diamonds.
Both Nkunda’s forces and government troops have been accused of terrorizing civilians, forcing some 100,000 to abandon their farms for refugee camps in recent weeks. They join some 837,000 displaced persons already on the UN roles. Starvation is the immediate problem facing them there, since many of the camps haven’t received food supplies for two months due to the increase in violence. The UN’s World Food Program has suspended operations outside Goma and even refugee camps that are reachable with supplies are only receiving half rations. Since the beginning of the year, humanitarian aid groups have been attacked at least 52 times.
Hungry, frustrated civilians in the region have rioted against UN forces recently, protesting the blue helmets’ inability to stop the fighting. Nkunda may see this as a sign that the time it right to try for a complete overthrow of Joseph Kabila’s government, the first chosen in democratic elections in Congo since the country’s liberation.