On January 23, 2009, Rwandan forces arrested former rebel leader Laurent Nkunda as he was fleeing into Rwanda from an attack on his base in Bunagana, Congo.
Nkunda is the former head of the CNDP, a Tutsi-dominated rebel group that claimed to be protecting civilians from the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, collectively known as the FDLR, who operate in the mountains of Eastern Congo.
The atrocities perpetrated by the CNDP under Nkunda’s command over the past decade are well documented: the massacre of several hundred deserters in Kisangani in 2002; days of pillage in Bukavu after it was seized by the CNDP in 2004; and, last fall, the massacre of hundreds of unarmed civilians in Kiwanja, a tiny village Northeast of Goma, during fighting to seize control of North Kivu.
As part of a joint Rwandan-Congolese operation against the FDLR, Rwandan forces entered the Congo in mid-January, occupying areas previously held by the CNDP. Although Rwanda provided support to the CNDP in the past, Rwandan officials promised to return Nkunda to the Congo to stand trial and to remove Rwandan forces from Congolese territory by the end of the month.
Nkunda was by no means the only threat to peace in the region. In early January, Bosco Ntaganda, Nkunda’s chief of staff, announced that he had taken control of nearly half of the CNDP forces formerly loyal to Nkunda. While he agreed to integrate his faction into the Congolese army, it is unclear whether this process will be successful. Ntaganda now serves as deputy commander of the joint military offensive, despite being wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes.
While the joint operation could mark a turning point in the conflict, the renewed fighting places civilians at risk yet again.