9 February 2009

Central Africa: Rwanda Needs Internal Talks to End DRC War


In a surprise move last month, Rwanda detained its erstwhile ally, the Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, who led an offensive in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo late last year, defeating government forces in a series of battles. Masoka Hubert Tshiswaka is the DRC programme manager for the Open Society Institute. AllAfrica's Faatimah Hendricks discussed with him what the future looks like in the eastern DRC after Nkunda's detention. Excerpts:

What will the impact be of the capture of Nkunda? Some Congolese politicians believe it will lead to the end of the war in the east.

My view unfortunately is different from what some politicians are saying… For the moment, what is the reason the Rwandese arrested Laurent Nkunda? Is it because he was making war in the DRC? Or is it because there are other reasons? Then you can see if the arrest can end the war.

From our understanding ... Nkunda [was] arrested because he refused to obey the Rwandese agenda. What is that agenda? We are hearing from the media that the Rwandese government signed an agreement with the Congolese government to attack FDLA [Rwandese Hutu militias based in the DRC]. That means to continue the war, but not between the Congolese army and the CNDP of Laurent Nkunda. The Congolese army, Rwandese army and Nkunda's rebels [could join together] to attack another group.

Seeing that, I feel there is no end of war. They have just changed partners and continue the war. And who's paying [in] all this? It is civilians. Because for civilians, a bullet coming from [the] government army or rebel army is the same bullet. It is killing.

That's why I say for me [this] is another era of the war. It is just another step in the... conflict. And my worry is that this time the war will become even more violent than when it was against Nkunda. Because Nkunda was a small group of people at the Rwandan border. [It] was in a small area in Ruturo District.

But now we have the Rwandese army with more than 7,000 people with sophisticated arms going deep into the DRC. That means when[they] start chasing the FDLA, they will kill more people and they will destroy more [of the] environment than what Nkunda was doing. That is my perception of things and my worry at the same time.

You mentioned the cost of the war to civilians and on the environment. What is being done to rehabilitate villages that were destroyed by Nkunda?

You are asking the question in regards to the civilians' interests. This question must be addressed by different actors in this conflict, especially from the Congolese government. But also the international community because, as you know, there is United Nations support in the DRC with a special peacekeeping mission in the DRC.

To rehabilitate these villages destroyed by Nkunda [or the] other rebellions in the DRC, we can ask first for justice for all those victims of rape, victims of massacres. Justice can [achieved] in different ways. The first way is to prosecute the authors of these crimes. We can consider these war crimes or crimes against humanity. So this person can be prosecuted before an international court or before the Congolese courts.

Also, if we have this justice, victims can receive moral rehabilitation because they will see that these people are punished. So they can be happy just to hear that the guy who did bad things, the guy who committed crimes, is punished.

The second way to rehabilitate these villages is to rebuild. In 1994 the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] under the UN Security Council put enough pressure on the Zairian government of the time to let refugees cross the border and to seek refuge in the DRC. In 1996, when those people were coming in, the international community was calling different parties to protect civilians – which most of militias did not do. And in 1999 the international community decided to create the UN mission in the DRC.

So the UN can't stop there... Now we have MONUC [the UN mission in the DRC]. We need to create a trust fund which can help to rebuild some villages if even they can't rebuild many things in the villages. We can build even some schools, bridges which can help villagers to cross from one place to another place. [We can] rehabilitate some churches which were burned... In these ways we can help villagers from these areas to feel like they are members of the international community.

First we need justice. We need to prosecute the authors of all these crimes. Secondly we need a sort of trust fund which can help to rehabilitate social infrastructures like schools, churches, hospitals or bridges which were broken during this war.

Do the people of North Kivu still have reason to fear violence in that area?

Of course... Laurent Nkunda was just one of these actors committing crimes in the area… The arrest of Nkunda is not ending the war. It's just changing strategies and alliances. The war is continuing.

What is next? What do you think Rwanda's government will do?

That is a very interesting question... Nkunda was not making war in Rwanda. Nkunda was Rwanda's ally. He was prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the DRC. If he could be arrested in the DRC we could say "now he will be prosecuted because we know why he was arrested…'

Why do they arrest him now? It is just their political agenda and they want to change their players on the ground. This has nothing to do with [his] crimes in the DRC.

Where will Nkunda be tried? Will it go to the international courts?

As far as I know, Rwanda is not [party] to the ICC [International Criminal Court]. Rwanda refused to sign... Rwanda can't surrender Nkunda to the ICC unless it can give him to an international force which can take him to the ICC. Can Rwanda surrender Nkunda to the Congolese government? This is possible... because now Rwanda is saying it is a Congolese partner. So it is possible to surrender Nkunda to the Congolese government. If that happens, that means Nkunda will be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity because there is an international arrest warrant against him issued by the Congolese judiciary.

But I doubt [he will be surrendered to the DRC] because, as you know, Nkunda was executing a Rwandese agenda. In 1994 when the regime in Rwanda was coming from Uganda to take power in Kigali, Nkunda was in the Rwandan army. He helped the regime to take power in Kigali.

In 1996 Nkunda crossed the border to start another war in Kinshasa with the support of Rwanda. In 1998 he was there again starting another war with the support of Rwanda. In 2002 and 2003 Nkunda was in Ituri... He was in Kisangani 2003 when Rwanda was fighting against Uganda in the DRC. So if they take him before court in the DRC, Nkunda [could] talk too much about what he was doing with Rwanda and it's not good for [the] Rwandan regime.

What are the implications of Nkunda's arrest for the wider Great Lakes region?

There are two ways that we can see this. The first is… [that there could be] new clashes between Rwandese forces and the FDLR, another Rwandan rebel movement in the DRC. This means you will have more people internally displaced. You will also have people crossing borders, going to Burundi, going to Tanzania, going to Uganda and other places within the DRC. This is the first implication...

The second is [that] maybe the government of Rwanda can say, "We don't like to fight, we are arresting Nkunda and we will negotiate with the FDLR." That will be the best way to end the `war in the region, if the government in Rwanda can decide to start political talks with the Rwandese rebels who are in the DRC.

If there are no talks, [then] the war will continue and it will be devastating for the region because I think that the regime in Kigali is from the minority tribe and the majority of Hutus are mostly supporting the FDLR. If [Rwanda] kills those who are in the DRC, others will emerge from inside Rwanda.

What will the impact of his arrest have on his own group and other rebel factions?

[Nkunda's] movement is split in two. The one part of the movement is led by Bosco Ntaganda, another criminal who is wanted by the ICC. There is an arrest warrant against him. The other one is led by Laurent Nkunda with the support of Commader Mirindi. This split is weakening the movement and also Ntaganda's side has said they will join the DRC army. So the movement is weak for the moment.

What is the way forward?

For the people's interests, we can suggest that the government of Rwanda surrender Nkunda to the government of the DRC for prosecution. First step.

The second step the government of Rwanda needs to take is [starting] political talks within Rwanda to end the war, because within the DRC there is not [a] group fighting the government of the DRC and there is not [a] group fighting against another group within the DRC.

The groups who are fighting are rebels from Rwanda and the official army from Rwanda. To end this war, we need the actors to go back to Rwanda and negotiate.

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