Congolese Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda was arrested by Rwandan authorities during the night while fleeing across the border into Rwandan territory, Congolese and Rwandan officials said Friday.
Nkunda was captured after Rwandan forces marched on his headquarters at Bunagana, in Congo's North Kivu region. The Rwandan troops are in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of a joint operation with the Congolese military to root out rebel groups who have caused instability and war in the region since the 1990s.
Nkunda put up brief resistance before his arrest, the officials said, and is believed to be still in the hands of the Rwandan army.
Congo's communications minister, Lambert Mende, told FRANCE 24 that Nkunda's arrest is a considerable achievement for peace in the region.
"We hope that the Rwandan authorities will hand him back to our authorities, because there's been an arrest warrant out against Mr. Nkunda for more than a year."
Nkunda is a former general in the Congolese army who defected with his troops in 2004 to fight Hutu rebels in North Kivu. His movement, the CNDP (the French initials for National Congress for the Defence of the People), received support from Rwanda, according to the UN, and regularly clashed with the Congolese army, which accused it of conniving with the Hutus.
But in the current operation, Congolese and Rwandan troops are cooperating in an effort to root out both Nkunda's CNDP and a Hutu group, the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda). Rwandan troops moved first against Nkunda's forces.
Top commanders in Nkunda's CNDP movement, such as chief of staff Bosco Ntaganda, defected last week to the Congolese forces.
"I think that the fight against CNDP is over," Mende told FRANCE 24. "Now we have to concentrate on the FDLR."
Joint operation offers hope of resolution
Congo and Rwanda are acting together for the first time in this drawn-out conflict.
Although Rwanda has sent troops across the border before to fight the FDLR, this is the first time it has taken action to quench Nkunda's revolt against Kinshasa.
"Nkunda has been a problem, a thorn in the side of the Rwandans, and they didn't know exactly how to deal with him," said Susan Linnee, a Congo specialist based in Kenya. "Now Rwanda has taken the moral high ground and can tell the Congolese to take care of the other rebels in North Kivu."
"If the joint forces succeed in dispersing the Hutu rebels, this could be the beginning of stability after more than a decade of tension and war," said Gauthier Rybinski, FRANCE 24's international affairs editor. "It appears that the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda have agreed to stop financing these rebel groups and are now allied in their aim of sharing the mineral resources that abound in eastern Congo."