January 23, 2009 / 12:43 PM / 10 years ago

FACTBOX: Who is Laurent Nkunda?

(Reuters) - Rwanda and Congo announced the arrest in Rwandan territory on Friday of Congolese Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda during a joint military operation against rebels on their Great Lakes border.

Here are some details about the rebel leader:

* LIFE:

— Nkunda was born in Rutshuru, North Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in February 1967.

— He studied psychology and has been a soldier since 1993. A Congolese Tutsi, he first fought with the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the rebel movement formed by Rwandan Tutsi exiles, which took control of Rwanda in 1994, ending the genocide there.

— In 1998, he became a senior officer in the Rwandan-backed Rally for Congolese Democracy-Goma (RCD-Goma), the main rebel group which controlled most of eastern DRC during the five-year civil war.

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

— By then a general, Nkunda led his own Congolese Tutsi rebellion in 2004 with 4,000 soldiers and briefly captured the South Kivu capital Bukavu. An international arrest warrant was issued for him for war crimes committed while occupying Bukavu.

— He called his Congolese rebel movement the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). He initially said he was defending Congo’s Tutsi minority, but said last year he wanted to “liberate” all Congo and install better government.

— A tall, slim bespectacled figure who often wore a military beret and carried a cane topped with a silver eagle’s head, Nkunda received visitors at his hilltop HQ in North Kivu, called “Africa’s Switzerland” because of its lush pastures.

CHALLENGE TO HIS LEADERSHIP:

— Nkunda’s leadership of his Tutsi National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) rebel group was challenged this year by a split in the group between its founder and his military chief, General Bosco “Terminator” Ntaganda, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

— Dissident CNDP commanders led by Ntaganda announced last week that they would stop fighting Congolese government troops, a move that appeared to sideline Nkunda.

— The dissidents’ declaration spelled out an offer made by Ntaganda to help Congo and Rwanda disarm the Rwandan Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) fighters who operate in eastern Congo. The armed FDLR presence there was seen as a root cause of the long-running conflict in the area. — Before the internal split, CNDP fighters led by Nkunda routed the U.N.-backed Congolese army in late 2008 in North Kivu, displacing a quarter of a million civilians.

— Some human rights campaigners have said they believe Ntaganda may have broken with Nkunda because he thought the CNDP leader was going to hand him over following a massacre of civilians at Kiwanja in November 2008, after rebels led by Ntaganda took the town.

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