General Laurent Nkunda (photo by Georgianne Nienaber)
In the ongoing horror story that is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there are reports and counter-reports that the main rebel army, the CNDP, is breaking apart into two camps. According to a New York Times report on January 11, 2008:
Gen. Laurent Nkunda, the leader of the Tutsi-dominated rebel group known as the C.N.D.P., is fighting off an attempt to topple him by Jean Bosco Ntaganda, his chief of staff, a ruthless fighter known as the Terminator who is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes, according to accounts from both camps. (source)
In fact a BBC report on January 5, 2009 was quoting allegations that Nkunda may have actually been overthrown, as well as denials by the same. A split would be a welcome development to Joseph Kabila, the president of the Congolese government and army, who has been losing battle after battle to the CNDP, but seasoned journalists should be asking just how true the reported split is and whether Kabila, more than just welcoming such a development, may actually be aiding and abetting any split.
Because communications between the media and the CNDP are difficult at best, it is always an effort to hear Nkunda's side of the story. However, two independent journalists, Georgianne Nienaber and Helen Thomas, did just that, traveling to Nkunda's compound in eastern Congo to interview him face-to-face in early January, prior to the above BBC report. Miss Nienaber recently filed her transcription of the interview at The Huffington Post, which you can click here to read.
Miss Nienaber now follows up that report with the results of a telephone interview Nkunda gave to journalists on January 12, which she has given me permission to post here at Mosquito Blog:
Congolese Rebel Leader Denies Reports of His Ouster in Western Press
Congolese sources allege $250,000 in bribes from Congolese General John Numbi to CNDP faction leader Bosco Ntaganda
General Laurent Nkunda leads the National Congress for the Defense of the People in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On January 12 Nkunda vehemently denied western news accounts of his ouster in a phone interview with independent journalists who were on the ground in the region and had met personally with Nkunda days before.
"This is absolutely not true," Nkunda said from his location in north Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Monday January 12.
The rival who challenged Nkunda's leadership was CNDP military chief of staff General Bosco Ntaganda, who accused Nkunda of obstructing peace efforts in the region on January 8.
This is the second time in recent months that Ntaganda has caused a controversy. In October, Ntaganda signed a statement announcing Nkunda's death, according to AFP reports.
Most major western news outlets are today reporting that CNDP faction leader Ntaganda is now in control of the CNDP following a meeting in Goma with alleged “senior officers” of the CNDP.
Contrary to the drumbeat present in western media that Nkunda has lost control of the CNDP; there is another side to the story.
The continuing reports of a split are puzzling to sources within the CNDP movement. Information gathered on Numbi and Ntaganda from sources within the CNDP was obtained weeks before the current move by Ntaganda.
Sources very close to Nkunda and professional members of the resistance maintain that Ntaganda has personal contacts and enhanced communication with the BBC and is in collusion with General John Numbi, the current chief of the Congolese Air Force, who was a prominent player in Ntaganda’s Goma press conference.
Nkunda confirmed reports from these civilian sources within the CNDP that Congolese General Numbi arranged for payment of $250,000 and promise of amnesty from Congolese president Joseph Kabila to destroy Nkunda.
Possessing no military training, Numbi was originally recruited by Congolese President Laurent Kabila and was promoted to his current rank by Joseph Kabila.
In "DRC Update: Building Security for the Elections," prepared before the last election, Jim Terrie in African Security Review wrote about General John Numbi, who remains a close confidant of Joseph Kabila:
"[He and others] declared support for President Kabila's re-election campaign, although they are contesting his Partie du Peuple pour la Réconstruction et la Démocratie (PPRD) in all other constituencies in Katanga. To achieve their objectives, they have supported the tribal 'Mai Mai' militias as well as urban gangs that are available for hire for political agitation and violence against political and ethnic opponents, including members of the Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS) party of Kabila's main opponent (at the time), Etienne Tshisekedi...."
The situation here is further complicated by the fact that the CNDP does not have access to the current news cycle. It may take days before they can react to stories appearing in international media.
Nkunda estimated that Ntaganda had "as few as 36 soldiers" with him, out of an estimated 7,000 in the CNDP.
Nkunda said Ntaganda "is suspended from command, and being followed by the disciplinary committee of the CNDP high command." Nkunda sent his military representatives to talk with Ntaganda and told him that he would be held accountable for his actions.
This was the second time in a week that Nkunda agreed to talk with the independent journalists. An interview was obtained with General Nkunda at his compound three days before the initial BBC reports of his ouster. >