Former Congolese warlord Laurent Nkunda is ready to face trial for alleged war crimes or go into exile to end his detention without charge in Rwanda, his lawyer said.
The former leader of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a rebel force that repeatedly routed Democratic Republic of Congo’s army, has been held under house arrest in Rwanda since he was arrested there a year ago.
If no case is levelled against him, Nkunda, a renegade army general, has chosen three countries where he would be willing to live in exile, his lawyer Stephane Bourgon told Reuters late last week.
Bourgon says Rwanda has kept Nkunda illegally in “no-man’s land” without charge and the authorities have refused Nkunda direct access to him, forcing the pair to communicate through Nkunda’s wife.
This week Rwanda’s Supreme Court postponed the hearing of a plea for Nkunda’s release because Rwanda’s Chief of Staff James Kabarebe, who had been ordered to attend, was unavailable.
“Laurent Nkunda is not scared of being sent to Kinshasa to be tried if there are valid accusations and valid charges pressed against him,” said Bourgon.
Bourgon said Nkunda’s attitude was: “Send me to the Hague if you have to but I’m not willing to stay in no-man’s land and be detained for no reason.”
The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) has not indicted Nkunda, but has opened investigations into him and the UN has accused his CNDP of serious human rights abuses, including sexual violence and recruitment of child soldiers during his five-year rebellion in eastern Congo.
“(Nkunda is) also willing to go abroad, to go into exile (and) has identified three states, and two out of those three are members of the Rome statute,” Bourgon added, refusing to name the countries the former rebel had chosen.
After two wars between the Great Lakes neighbours and then years in which they traded accusations of backing the other’s rebels, Rwanda and Congo mended relations last year in a deal that analysts say hinged on Nkunda’s arrest and Rwandan help ending his CNDP rebellion.
Rwandan and Congolese soldiers, including Nkunda’s Tutsi-dominated former rebels, then jointly turned their guns onto the Rwandan Hutu rebels.
However, Rwanda has not taken Nkunda to court or yielded to Congolese calls to transfer him to face charges in Kinshasa.
“If you believe that the man is a danger or a risk to peace then you have to make your case in court. But you can’t just do that arbitrarily without making your case,” Bourgon said.
Nkunda could face a tribunal for war crimes, treason and desertion charges in Congo.
“Congo’s position has not changed. Our contacts with the Rwanda authorities are continuing. We wish him to be handed over to the Congolese courts,” said government spokesperson Lambert Mende.
Rwandan Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama said he could not speculate on the outcome of Nkunda’s Supreme Court hearing.
Pic: Laurent Nkunda