Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Wednesday postponed a meeting of their high command after an open challenge to Laurent Nkunda threatened to complicate the search for a solution to the conflict in the country’s east.
A move to oust Nkunda was launched by chief of staff Bosco Ntaganda, but their relative positions remained unchanged ahead of an emergency meeting of the rebels’ high command which was postponed until Thursday.
Ntaganda signed a statement on Monday that Nkunda had been dismissed as leader of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) for “poor leadership” and “bad governance.” The CNDP later denied that.
UN peacekeepers were alerted to the possibility of clashes between rival rebel factions, but no fighting was reported after apparent efforts to lower tensions inside the rebel camp.
“There’s little chance it will degenerate,” said Stewart Scott, Nkunda’s biographer. “The situation seems to have settled. Everyone now wants to calm things down.”
Ntaganda was accused of “high treason” for his affront to Nkunda, but despite this he remains the rebel chief of staff, a CNDP spokesman said on Wednesday.
Nkunda was expected to chair a delayed meeting of the high command in Rutshuru, north of Goma, scheduled for yesterday, to discuss the general’s fate.
“We are favoring dialogue,” deputy executive secretary of the CNDP Serge Kambasu Ngeve. “We have to listen to everyone to resolve the problem ... There are sentiments, discontent, that we cannot ignore.”
The rebels’ woes were being regarded with a mixture of suspicion and derision by the government in Kinshasa.
“If this malaise can change the nature of this armed movement into a political party, that would be significant,” government spokesman Lambert Mende said.
“But if it’s a maneuver to create a diversion, it will fail,” he said, adding that it mattered little to Kinshasa who was leader.
“We are not fighting the CNDP because it is being led by Nkunda, but because it violates the laws of the republic, is killing populations and has caused the exodus of thousands of displaced people,” Mende said.
Nicknamed “The Terminator,” Ntaganda had a previous scrape with Nkunda last October, when his signature appeared on a statement announcing that the rebel leader had died from a heart attack.
The authors of the statement remain unidentified, and Ntaganda was untouched. But this time, there seems little doubt about his open defiance of Nkunda, who founded the CNDP in 2006.
The general has become a focal point for internal opposition to Nkunda, an ethnic Tutsi.
Ntaganda, a hardliner, has the support of the Bagogwe Tutsi clan from the mountainous Masisi region, who have tired of the dominance of Nkunda’s Rutshuru-based Tutsis in the rebel leadership.
His move against Nkunda may have several motives, a UN source said, that include military distrust of the increasing role of civilians in the CNDP leadership and hostility to a strategy of greater openness toward rival Hutus.