Page last updated at 17:31 GMT, Sunday, 25 January 2009

DR Congo wary despite Nkunda arrest

Mugunga camp (12 November 2008)
Some 250,000 people were forced to flee their homes after clashes in DR Congo

By Karen Allen
BBC News, Goma

At Mugunga camp, just outside the provincial capital Goma, there was relief in the immediate hours that followed Congolese rebel leader Gen Laurent Nkunda's capture.

In an astonishing about turn, Rwanda - widely considered his backer - arrested him.

It is part of a political deal to end the Democratic Republic of Congo's troubles, which are bound up in the aftermath of Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

Now that Nkunda is gone, it means we might be able to return home soon
Bizi, refugee at Mugunga camp

Mugunga is a sprawling sea of tents and home to some 50,000 people.

They are among the quarter of a million people forced to flee their villages after clashes between Gen Nkunda's rebels and the Congolese army.

In a white tent pitched in a sea of black volcanic mud, Bizi has a transistor radio clamped to his ear.

I ask him if he feels safer with the news of Gen Nkunda's capture on Friday.

"Yes, I feel a good deal saferů and now that Nkunda is gone, it means we might be able to return home soon," he says.

'End of the war'

The capture of Gen Nkunda is being billed as the "end of the war" by many of DR Congo's politicians, who have now embarked on a major PR drive.

But the seizure of one of Africa's most feared rebel leaders is only half of the story.

Gen Laurent Nkunda (6 November 2008)
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

Thousands of Rwandan troops are now marching into DR Congo to complete their operation, and people do not know whether to be grateful or scared.

Julien Paluku, the governor of North Kivu province, stood in the pouring rain in the centre of Kiwanja, surrounded by heavily armed bodyguards.

The venue was significant and chosen for maximum effect.

Until recently it was held by Gen Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), and was the scene of atrocities, televised around the world.

Now it is back in government hands, following a deal with some of the rebels, to integrate their men into the Congolese army.

But the deal was done with a dissident faction of the CNDP, not troops loyal to the Gen Nkunda.

The captured rebel leader portrays himself as "protector" of DR Congo's Tutsi minority, who he says are being threatened by "foreign" Hutu militias, some of whom are accused of taking part in the Rwandan genocide and have integrated into Congolese society.

"They tell us it's the end of the war," said one man who spoke as others nodded their heads around him.

"I would like to believe that. But we now have Rwandan troops in Congo and we don't know what they're really up to."

Twin-track approach

Mr Paluku told the crowd in Kiwanja that Rwanda, its former foe, was now a key ally of the Congolese government.

Read the reactions of Congolese refugees displaced by the fighting in the east of the country to the arrest of Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.

Working together to restore peace to this tattered region, the neighbours have come up with a deal.

It entails the capture of Gen Nkunda in exchange for a joint mission to purge DR Congo of Hutu militias that fled across from Rwanda after the genocide, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The principle of a twin-track approach is something diplomats have been pushing for some time.

Disarming both the Tutsi rebels and the Hutu militias will be crucial for the people of Kiwanja.

For many years, they have been caught in the middle of a complex crisis.

It has seen Kinshasa accused of backing the Hutu rebels, and Kigali accused of funding Gen Nkunda's CNDP.

Little wonder, then, that the capture of one man is now being used as a "bargaining chip" by Rwanda to end the war and deal with some of the "demons" of the past.

Congolese troop advance

Analysts believe Gen Nkunda may not be extradited to DR Congo until the joint military operation to hunt down the FDLR is complete.

Congolese soldiers in Rutshuru (24 January 2009)
Units of Congolese troops are moving north towards Rutshuru and beyond

Units of Congolese troops are being moved north towards Rutshuru and beyond.

They are poised for further strikes on FDLR strongholds, including the town of Tongo further west.

There have been attacks on five villages already, and there is widespread fear that the violence could dramatically escalate.

The soldiers march on foot or are transported in military trucks. Others we saw had commandeered civilian vehicles to ease their advance.

Along the route, we also spotted clusters of heavily armed Rwandan troops.

With mortars slung over their shoulders and other heavy weaponry, their presence in small units is causing nervousness.

DR Congo's civilians want to believe that soon there will be peace, but during major operations like these rape, looting and killings of innocent villagers, is the price that many pay.

The reality is that it could be some time before it really is the end of the war.


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