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Africa

Rebel leader Nkunda rallies for support

Video by Luke SHRAGO , Cédric MOLLE LAURENCON

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-23

Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda slammed the deployment of an additional 3,000 troops in eastern DR Congo saying they could not usher peace. Nkunda held his first rally in Rutshuru, north of Goma, to garner support.

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Scenes from the battle scene

 

The crowd had been sweltering for three hours in an overgrown stadium Saturday before Laurent Nkunda arrived and launched a harangue against the government and the UN peppered with dancing, singing and biblical references.
  
"They are sending in another 3,000 peacekeepers and you are applauding. You are mistaken!" thundered the rebel leader to a mostly male audience of some 1,500 people, in his first public address in this eastern Democratic Republic of Congo town since capturing it last month.
  
"We cannot accept there are (outsiders) to provide our security," he argued during a rowdy "popular meeting" in Rutshuru, located about 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Goma, the main city in war-torn Nord-Kivu province.
  
Elegantly clad in khakis and walking boots and carrying his trademark cane topped with an eagle's head, the rangy ex-general denounced those "aimed to fight Nkunda" and called for coexistence in a region torn by ethnic differences.
  
"There is only one solution, we must live together. There is enough space for foreigners," said Nkunda, who claims he is defending the region's Tutsi minority.
  
Nkunda's arrival here -- in a white 4x4 vehicle with tinted windows, preceded by a jeep packed with rebels bristling with machine guns and rocket launchers -- came just two days after the United Nations Security Council approved sending 3,000 additional peacekeepers to this troubled central African country, bringing the total UN operation to 20,000.
  
"We will not accept outsiders coming in to provide security to us here," Nkunda boomed, arguing the extra UN forces were incapable of securing peace and separately slamming the government of Congolese President Joseph Kabila for "bad management."
  
Earlier in the week, Nkunda's men withdrew from two key frontlines in this eastern province of Nord-Kivu, ostensibly to boost a mission by UN special envoy Olesegun Obasanjo to end months of fighting between Nkunda's rebels and government troops that has displaced a quarter of a million people.
  
But the rebels remain posted outside Goma, where the conflict is centred.
  
At Rutshuru, Nkunda appeared to be launching another offensive -- aimed to charm or at least sway the local population -- complete with rappers sporting military headbands, and dancing by a group of local pygmies and little girls, in which the rebel leader joined in.
  
Many Rutshuru citizens were afraid to attend the event, members of the audience said, blaming Nkunda's men for pillaging and rape.
  
But even under the watchful eyes of police and rebels, the crowd gradually appeared to unwind, applauding Nkunda's calls for peace and for a new local administration.
  
Leaving the stadium, 32-year-old farmer Jules Jean de Dieu said he was "reassured" by Nkunda's announcement that schools would reopen Monday.
  
For his part, a young student who gave his name only as Innocent, praised the Tutsi leader's call for harmony in the country's east, where the fighting is rooted in ethnic divisions.
  
But he also noted that Nkunda had not tackled security problems or the difficult coexistence between the rebels and the local population.
  
"He said we could circulate freely, but we don't circulate freely in Kiwanja," a town next to Rutshuru, Innocent said.
  
"There is sexual violence and extortion at night. He did not let us speak about these problems."

Date created : 2008-11-23

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