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Profile: General Laurent Nkunda

Laurent Nkunda
Rebel commander Laurent Nkunda studied psychology at university

Rebel General Laurent Nkunda has long sought to portray himself as the only man who can protect his Tutsi community in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo from Hutu forces.

This led to accusations that he was a stooge of the Tutsi-led Rwandan government.

But in a surprising about-turn, it is the Rwandans who have finally arrested him.

The Congolese government issued an international arrest warrant against him for alleged war crimes in 2005.

It says it wants Gen Nkunda to be sent back home to face trial.

Human Rights Watch says his troops have been implicated in numerous killings, torture and rapes.

More than one million people have fled three-way clashes between Gen Nkunda's forces, ethnic Hutu Rwandan rebels and the Congolese army in recent years.

Atrocities

Although a peace deal officially ended DR Congo's war in 2002, and a subsequent deal in January to disarm rebel groups in the east, Gen Nkunda and his men have not joined the army, as former rebel units were supposed to.

His force, estimated to be several thousand strong has remained around Goma, always a potential threat to DR Congo's precarious peace.

LAURENT NKUNDA
map
Age: 40
Congolese Tutsi
Fought for Tutsi rebels in Rwanda and DR Congo
Accused of war crimes in DR Congo
Studied psychology
Owns a cheese farm

The 17,000 UN peacekeepers in the country have never tried to move against his force, aware that disarming so many troops would not be easy.

He fought in both the Rwandan and Congolese conflicts but first came to widespread notice when he led his forces into the Congolese town of Bukavu in 2004.

He said he was protecting Congolese Tutsis from "genocide" - an emotive word following the slaughter by Hutu extremists of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda 10 years earlier.

Independent investigations confirmed that there had been some attacks on Tutsis in Bukavu, but not to the extent the general claimed.

Most local people believed it was all a pretext - his real objective was not the protection of the Tutsi - it was power.

Laurent Nkunda studied psychology at university.

Even today the gaunt 40-year-old looks studious with glasses perched on the end of his nose.

He is also a farmer. Tutsis traditionally keep cows and Gen Nkunda has a family farm in the Masisi area north of Goma, where his workers make cheese from cows' milk.

But for the past 14 years he has been a soldier.

Time's up

Although he was born in DR Congo, he fought with the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the rebel movement formed by Rwandan Tutsi exiles, which took control of Rwanda in 1994, ending the genocide.

After that Laurent Nkunda returned home to join Rwanda's adventures in DR Congo.

He was a commander in the Rwandan-backed Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) - the main rebel group which controlled most of eastern DR Congo during the five-year civil war.

He was accused of committing atrocities in 2002 as a commander in the diamond-rich town of Kisangani.

Similar charges were also made after his forces captured Bukavu.

After the RCD joined the transitional government in 2003, it looked like Gen Nkunda would have a chance to spend more time with his wife and four children.

But while other rebel units joined the newly integrated national army, he refused.

It was only in 2007 that he agreed for his forces to set up "mixed brigades" with the Congolese army.

And then only to pursue the remnants of the Hutu militias who had committed the genocide in Rwanda and then fled into DR Congo, after his former comrades in the RPF seized power in Kigali.

Rwanda has twice invaded DR Congo, saying it wants to stop these rebel groups from staging cross-border attacks.

But now that the Congolese government has allowed Rwandan troops on to its territory, maybe Gen Nkunda has outlived his usefulness.



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