Thursday, January 8, 2009

What's Going on in the East?

Laurent Nkunda, the leader of the Tutsi-dominated rebel movement CNDP, appears to have put down a coup attempt by his chief of staff, General Bosco Ntaganda.

Ntaganda reportedly sent a statement to the media on Monday (1/5) claiming that he had ousted Nkunda, a statement that was immediately denied by Nkunda's spokesman. Nkunda insists he remains in control of the rebel movement and says his military chief will be disciplined for insubordination, which he called an "act of madness."

Rwanda's New Times reports that the CNDP's military high command was to have met yesterday to discuss Ntaganda's fate. Nkunda himself was expected to chair that meeting, in the Rutshuru area of Nord-Kivu.

Meanwhile, Ntaganda spoke to journalists yesterday at a hillside farm at Kabati, a village located about thirty miles northwest of Rutshuru. Reuters says that Ntaganda accused Nkunda of being an obstacle to peace: "The head of the CNDP has been removed, but the CNDP remains." Ntaganda, said the Reuters report, was flanked by "dozens of fighters" and other CNDP leaders.

However, Jason Stearns, the head of the recent UN expert group report, said that he doubted Ntaganda would be able to peel off much support from Nkunda. While Ntaganda is popular with rank-and-file soldiers, most of whom are from the same Gogwe clan, most of the CNDP commanders have rallied behind Nkunda.

Reuters says that U.N. officials and human rights campaigners believe that Ntaganda acted after learning that Nkunda planned to discipline him for the massacre in Kiwanja in November, in which as many as 150 civilians were killed.

News of the Kiwanja massacre made the front page of the New York Times, and the recent UN expert report documented close ties between the CNDP and the Rwandan government, prompting various Scandinavian governments to pull their financial support to Rwanda.

Kagame could be worried that supporting Nkunda is beginning to cost him too much international support. And he may feel less of a need to support the CNDP now that the Congolese government has agreed to allow joint military operations within its territory against the FDLR. So Nkunda probably offered up Ntaganda as a sacrifice, to give Kagame some wiggle room with the international donor community. Only Ntaganda wasn't willing to be the fall guy, especially since the ICC has a warrant out for his arrest. He doesn't want to spend the next 20 years in some cell in The Hague.

Now the question is how long Ntaganda will be able to operate on his own, cut off from the CNDP and Rwanda. Reuters' report that he was surrounded by "dozens" of soldiers suggests that he doesn't have a lot support for the long haul.

For his part, Nkunda has to be worried about the viability of his movement, given the increasing pressure from above and the defections and threats from below. And if MONUC ever gets those extra 3,000 troops, he'll be facing a third threat, head-on: an international force with a mandate to put him out of business. These are desperate times for Nkunda.

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