Congo rebel leader warns of takeover before crisis summit

As regional leaders prepared to convene Friday over the growing crisis in Congo, rebel leader Laurent Nkunda said again he is ready to take his troops to the capital and overthrow the government.

As regional leaders prepared to convene Friday over the growing crisis in Congo, rebel leader Laurent Nkunda again warned that he is ready to take his troops to the capital and overthrow the government.

Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda has warned he will take his fighers to Kinshasa if the Congolese government does not agree to negotiate with him. ((Associated Press))

In an interview with CBC's As It Happens, Nkunda reiterated his desire to engage in peace talks with the government of Congo under the guidance of a neutral mediator.

He warned, however, that his forces are also ready to attack should the government refuse to disengage with "negative forces" from neighbouring countries such as Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.

"We are going to force this government to accept or to go out of Congo because they cannot betray their people and then continue to rule the people," Nkunda said in an interview broadcast Thursday night.

When asked if he will march to the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, if his demands aren't met, his answer was unequivocal.

"Of course — it's our country. We cannot have a small part in Congo, we are going to go to the capital if they are not ready to give us freedom."

As It Happens host Carol Off asked: "And so you will try to take over the country?"

"Of course," he replied.

The former army general has said he is fighting to liberate all of Congo from a corrupt government.

Nkunda's 4,000-member guerilla army is one of several militia groups operating in eastern Congo, where at least 250,000 people have been driven from their homes since fighting intensified in August.

Although Nkunda declared a unilateral ceasefire on Oct. 29, clashes Thursday between his fighters and the army have threatened the fragile declaration.

The rebel leader told the Associated Press earlier Thursday that army forces, backed by pro-government militias, attacked rebel positions before dawn in Nyanzale, in eastern Congo's North Kivu province.

"We didn't break any ceasefire," Nkunda told CBC. "We were attacked and when we called for a ceasefire, we advised… the international community that when attacked, we will react."

He reiterated his demand for direct negotiations with Congolese President Joseph Kabila. He accused Kabila of working with foreign armies and Hutu militias responsible for the Rwanda genocide of 1994 to suppress Congo's Tutsi people — in particular, the Lord's Resistance Army, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and the FNL from Burundi.

"We said that if our government cannot separate our forces from these negative forces, we will be obliged now to stop this government because we cannot accept that kind of behaviour," Nkunda said.

Kabila's administration has indicated it is open to discussions with all rebel and militia groups in the region, but would not solely meet with Nkunda's group.

Kabila is set to meet with continental leaders, as well as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Friday in Nairobi to discuss ways to resolve the conflict.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame and former Nigerian leader and newly appointed UN special envoy Olusegun Obasanjo are also scheduled to attend.

"The first thing [Ban] is going to ask them is to have direct conversation, which ... they have started at the lower level," UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

"And he's certainly going to try to talk to them, and to other leaders, about reining in on the different armed groups that are fighting."

The UN leader has called for an immediate ceasefire in eastern Congo, and urged armed groups to pursue a political resolution.

Nkunda said he and his forces are ready to join the Congolese army if he sees evidence that it has cut ties with the FDLR.

"Until now we are ready to do, to join the army, but if the government army is working with FDLR we will not join, we will never join."

The conflict in eastern Congo is fuelled by lingering tensions from the 1994 slaughter of a half-million Tutsis in Rwanda, and Congo's civil wars from 1996-2002, which attracted neighbouring countries to Congo's mineral riches.

Nkunda, who defected from Congo's army in 2004, claims the Congolese government has not protected ethnic Tutsis from the Rwandan Hutu militia that escaped to Congo after helping slaughter a half-million Rwandan Tutsis.

With files from Associated Press