The Rwandan army has arrested Congo rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, a military spokesman said today.
Rwandan and Congolese troops converged on Nkunda’s stronghold yesterday in the town of Bunagana, on the Ugandan border. But he resisted arrest and fled further south, crossing the border into Rwanda, said Capt Olivier Hamuli, a spokesman for the joint force.
Capt Hamuli did not say why the ethnic Tutsi rebel chief was arrested and Rwandan officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Around 4,000 Rwandan soldiers entered Congo this week at the invitation of Congo’s government, a startling reversal of alliances between the two long-time enemies. Both nations have said the Rwandans are in Congo as part of an operation to hunt down and disarm thousands of mostly Hutu ethnic fighters who fled to Congo in the wake of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
Nkunda took up arms several years ago with backing from formerly close ally, Rwanda, claiming he needed to protect minority Tutsis from the Hutu militias.
Analysts say Rwanda and Nkunda’s own commanders had grown irritated by Nkunda, viewing him as a flippant, authoritarian megalomaniac who had allegedly embezzled money from rebel coffers.
Earlier this month, Nkunda’s ex-chief of staff, Bosco Ntaganda, formed a splinter movement and last week announced his forces would work together with Congo’s army to fight the Hutu militias and eventually integrate into the army.
Ntaganda may have turned on his former boss because he was afraid months of growing distrust might have prompted Nkunda to turn him over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, where he is wanted for the alleged forced conscription of child soldiers in the northern Ituri region five years ago.
Though details of the agreement to allow Rwandan troops on Congo soil have not been made public, analysts speculate the government may have promised not to hand Ntaganda over for extradition in exchange for his co-operation.
Rwanda has been under international pressure for months to use its influence over Tutsi rebels to end the conflict, and the breakthrough agreement may have been borne out of the split within Nkunda’s movement that both Congo and Rwanda were quick to exploit.