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Congolese Rebel Leader Has Political Aspirations

Interviewee: Rebecca Feeley, Field Researcher, ENOUGH Project
Interviewer: Stephanie Hanson, News Editor, CFR.org
October 9, 2008

Conflict in Eastern Congo continues despite a cease-fire agreement signed in January. In late August, fighting resumed (CSMonitor) between Congolese rebels and government soldiers, displacing thousands of villagers. Rebecca Feeley, a field researcher for the ENOUGH Project based in Goma, eastern Congo, says although the agreement was a "small victory" for diplomats, Congolese don't believe it will lead to peace. She points to continuing poor living conditions for civilians in eastern Congo, amid ongoing fighting and rearming by rebel groups in the area.

Contributing to tensions, she says, is the quest by a rebel leader, Laurent Nkunda of the National Congress for People's Defense (CNDP), to attain political power. Nkunda signed the cease-fire, but insisted that the CNDP was identified in its text as a politico-military organization, not solely an group. Nkunda argues that he is defending his people, ethnic Tutsi, from the FDLR, a group of ethnic Hutus that fled Rwanda in 1994. But "the general understanding of Nkunda's real motives is that he wants a political position; he wants to be seen as a political leader," Feeley says.

Feeley adds that she doesn't think Nkunda intends to disarm, though many involved in the peace process are "trying to figure out exactly how to make him happy. And I'm not sure that's possible." In the meantime, several other rebel groups in eastern Congo are recruiting ex-combatants and demobilized soldiers. The disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process for eastern Congo is understaffed and underfunded, Feeley says, calling it "the elephant in the room."

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