Renegade general Laurent Nkunda launched a new offensive in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo on August 28, capturing large swaths of territory and stopping at the edge of Goma, the regional capitol. The conflict has reportedly drawn Rwandan and Angolan troops into the region, created 250,000 new civilian refugees, and threatens to become the Third Congo War.
The question is, why?
Nkunda has always said he was fighting to protect minority Tutsis from Rwandan Hutu rebels, remnants of the Interhamwe who carried out the 1994 genocide and then fled to Congo.
Along the way, however, Nkunda has begun collecting taxes in the regions under his control, and even went so far at one point to set up a customs post on the border with Uganda to collect tariffs on goods crossing the border. He has repeatedly demanded tribute from companies operating mines and other businesses in the region.
Although Nkunda himself has been careful to not be quoted saying it, his supporters have referred to the territory as the nation of Virunga, indicating that his plans for the mineral-rich region may include establishment of an independent state.
Lately, Nkunda says he is fighting to “liberate” all of Congo from Joseph Kabila’s allegedly corrupt government. He recently threatened to march across the huge country and conquer the capitol of Kinshasa if his demands are not met. That threat may not be as far-fetched as it seems.
Nkunda has been accused of crimes against humanity, and Congo’s government issued an international arrest warrant against him after he defected from the army in 2004. It cites war crimes including massacres of civilians in 2002, when he was still in the army, and in 2004 when he took his rebellion to eastern Bukavu town.