A commander who claims to have overthrown Laurent Nkunda as leader of rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) said on Thursday Nkunda was a “brake on peace” and his ouster would boost regional truce moves.
“The chairman has been overthrown but the CNDP remains as it is,” Bosco Ntaganda told a press conference organized at his headquarters in the rebel-controlled Masisi highlands.
“Nkunda has become a brake on peace inside the CNDP. We have been telling him to leave for a long time,” said Ntaganda, making his first public comments on the crisis that has split the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), which Nkunda formed in 2006.
But the Nkunda camp strongly denied the leader’s ouster.
As both sides remained locked in a war of words on Thursday, Nkunda’s spokesman, Bertrand Bisimwa, accused Ntaganda of a “hoax” in claiming the leader had been replaced.
“It’s obviously a massive hoax and a characteristic indiscipline which will not remain unsanctioned,” Bisimwa said in a statement.
Nkunda said earlier this week he was still in charge and that his rival would be disciplined by the rebel high command. However, Ntaganda insisted on Thursday that the rebel leadership was under his control and that the high command would meet under his auspices to resolve the crisis and appoint a new leader.
Ntaganda told the press conference that the rival rebel camps had managed to avoid armed clashes, and the standoff with Nkunda would be resolved peacefully.
“Nkunda is my brother, I cannot kill him, or his children, and I think that he could not kill me,” he said.
Ntaganda said the change of leadership “will help peace to return to the east of DRC,” adding that he had the support of “members of the CNDP and the commanders of major units” of the rebel military.
Ntaganda, wearing a general’s uniform, was the rebels’ chief of staff before announcing on Monday that Nkunda had been dismissed for “poor leadership.”
He also on Thursday accused Nkunda of abusing his power.
“The movement’s money was no longer being used for the CNDP, but was managed by Nkunda as if it was his pocket money,” Ntaganda said.
“Not one organ [of the CNDP] was functioning. He was doing everything,” he said.
The CNDP force of around 5,000 troops controls large areas of Nord-Kivu province in eastern Congo following an autumn offensive against the poorly equipped government army. The offensive displaced more than a quarter of a million people and sparked a humanitarian crisis.
Ntaganda said he would pursue peace negotiations with the government of DR Congo President Joseph Kabila. A spokesman for Ntaganda said earlier on Thursday that a rebel delegation participating in UN-mediated peace talks in Nairobi with government officials had no legitimacy as it was chosen by Nkunda before his overthrow.
But Ntaganda said that if the talks “are going to bring peace, I will support them.”