The trial of former Congolese renegade
army General Laurent Nkunda is expected to begin today (Friday) in the Rwanda
border town of Gisenyi near the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Political
observers have questioned the rationale behind Kigali's decision to prosecute
the former rebel leader whose insurgency was mainly within the DRC. Kigali
captured Nkunda early this year after he crossed the border into Rwanda while attempting to resist arrest by a joint
Rwandan-Congolese military force in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). But
Kigali has so far refused Kinshasa's request to extradite Nkunda so that he may
stand trial in the DRC.
Jack Kahora is the VOA correspondent in DRC who will be
attending Friday's trial. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that there are
suspicions surrounding Kigali's refusal to hand over the former rebel leader
for trial in DRC.
is what we heard from people who are close to him (Nkunda). But also last week
we had an interview with his wife who said that on the 17th of April
2009 her husband would be going on trial, and some sources confirmed this
saying at eight o clock in the morning the trial will take place at the
tribunal of Gisenye, that is the neighboring town of Goma," Kahora pointed out.
He said the trial of the former Congolese rebel
leader in Rwanda is controversial.
think that Rwanda was trying to make a file on him and on his case in Rwanda
that is why they have to put him on trial before he is sent to the DRC
authorities. Maybe that is why they are organizing this trial, but I don't
think it would be appropriate to put him on trial in a country where he did not
commit any crime," he said.
Kahora said Kinshasa has so far been quiet about Friday's trial of the
former rebel leader.
"The government of
DRC hasn't made any
comment on this, apart from the last meetings of the ministers in which they
announced that they are in good contact with Rwanda authorities, and that the
extradition of Nkunda is expected as soon as possible. We don't know it is in
this process that Rwanda is organizing this trial so that he can be extradited
to the DRC," Kahora pointed out.
He said some
Congolese are wondering why Kigali is conducting the trial instead of Kinshasa.
"What we are
expecting is to hear first why Rwanda has to organize such a trial since we
know that he didn't commit anything wrong on Rwanda side. What is the purpose
of such a trial in a country on which Nkunda didn't commit any crime? This is
what we want to learn more from today's trial being organized by Rwanda," he
Friday's trial presents an opportunity for members in the media to ascertain
Nkunda's response to the charges that would be leveled against him.
"It is also an
opportunity for us journalists because as you know since he (Nkunda) was
arrested on the 23rd of January up to now, no journalist has gotten
the opportunity to hear from him or speak with him, and also no member of his
family has been allowed to visit him or talk to him. So, it will be a great
opportunity for us to see how he is and how is going to explain himself about
the charges against him today," Kahora noted.
Some Congolese say
Rwanda detained Laurent Nkunda apparently as part of an agreement with Congo
that opened the way for thousands of Rwandan soldiers to cross the border in a
joint operation to hunt down Rwandan Hutu militia.
Congolese political Analysts say Rwanda
was under intense international pressure to use its influence over the Tutsi
rebellion to end the crisis. At the same time, Rwanda and an alleged clique of
rebel commanders had grown disenchanted with Nkunda, who they increasingly
regarded as a flippant, authoritarian megalomaniac who allegedly embezzled
money from rebel coffers.
The Hague-based International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for
Nkunda after he led his Tutsi National Congress for the Defense of the People
(CNDP) rebel group and committed various atrocities in Congo's restive North
Kivu province and surrounding areas. The ICC accused him of war crimes in the town
of Bukavu, in the eastern province of Sud-Kivu, which his forces captured in
Nkunda was first
believed to have first fought with the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which took
control of Rwanda in 1994, ending the genocide there. In 1998, he reportedly
became a senior officer in the Rwandan-backed Rally for Congolese
Democracy-Goma (RCD), the main rebel group which controlled most of eastern DRC
during the five-year civil war. Nkunda was accused of committing atrocities in
2002 as an RCD commander in the town of Kisangani and as a result has been
referred to as the "Butcher of Kisangani".
The former rebel leader
claimed initially that he was defending Congo's Tutsi minority, but indicated
last year that he wanted to liberate all of the Congo and install a better
government. He accused current President Joseph Kabila of illegally signing
contracts with the Chinese and refused to recognize the government.
Weeks before Nkunda's
capture, his rebel group had forced President Kabila's embattled government to
negotiate at the peace talks in Kenya after his fighters advanced to the
outskirts of North Kivu's regional capital, Goma, forcing more than 250,000
people from their homes.
Kinshasa hailed the surprised arrest
of the former CNDP leader reportedly hoping it would herald a new era of peace
and mark the end of Congo's Tutsi rebellion. But few believe the country's
problems are over and many fear the unprecedented and unpopular deal with
former enemy Rwanda is a risky gamble that could unleash more bloodshed.
believed Nkunda's trial would enhance the efforts of Kinshasa towards finding a
lasting solution to the ongoing insecurity in the restive North Kivu province
and surrounding areas where rebel insurgency was pronounced.