MEDIA: Photographs

YEAR: 2008

By Jeffrey Gettleman
Jan. 23, 2009

KIGALI, Rwanda — Overnight, the battle in Congo has suddenly shifted.

Gen. Laurent Nkunda, the Congolese rebel leader whose brutal tactics and Congo-size ambitions have threatened to bring about another catastrophic war in central Africa, was arrested late Thursday, removing an explosive factor from the regional equation.

According to United Nations officials and Rwandan authorities, General Nkunda was captured by Rwandan troops as he tried to escape a Congolese-Rwandan offensive that has taken aim at several rebel groups terrorizing eastern Congo.

General Nkunda had seemed untouchable, commanding a hardened rebel force that routinely humiliated Congolese troops and then calmly gliding through muddy villages in impossibly white robes. But he may never have anticipated that his old ally, the Rwandan Army, would take him away.

The surprise arrest could be a major turning point for Congo, which has been mired in rebellion and bloodshed for much of the past decade. It instantly strengthens the hand of the Congolese government, militarily and politically, right when the government seemed about to implode. But it could also empower other, even more brutal rebel figures like Jean Bosco Ntaganda, General Nkunda’s former chief of staff, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes.