Cablegate: Behind the Lines: A Visit to Nkunda Land

DE RUEHKI #1049/01 3301619
O 251619Z NOV 08



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: CNDP Chairman Laurent Nkunda held his first
public rally in the recently captured town of Rutshuru on November
22. Goma Poloff made the 80-kilometer drive from Goma with a MONUC
escort, observing few signs of combat and generally relaxed
residents along the crowded corridor. Nkunda criticized MONUC and
promised the audience that services and security would improve under
a CNDP administration. Nkunda displayed considerable political and
PR skills. He appears to be settling in for a long stay in the
district capital. End summary.

Where is the war?

2. (SBU) FARDC and rebel CNDP front lines remain static only 10
kilometers outside of Goma. There is no great distinction between
the opposing lines -- the FARDC troops wear green fatigues, while
most CNDP troops wear camouflage. A village just behind the CNDP
"border" is abandoned, but there is little evidence of conflict.
Embassy's Goma officer and TDY A/RSO crossed deep into CNDP
territory on November 22 to attend a speech in Rutshuru by CNDP
"Chairman" Laurent Nkunda, accompanied by EU facilitator and a
two-vehicle MONOC escort.

3. (SBU) A large IDP camp on the outskirts of Goma has swelled with
new arrivals since the conflict began. Many IDPs have returned
home, however, as the CNDP dismantles IDP camps in its territory and
assures residents that they have nothing to fear from rebel forces.
Trucks laden with produce, charcoal and passengers pass casually
through the lines without harassment. Poloff encountered two FARDC
roadblocks just outside Goma, but only one roadblock along the
two-hour journey through CNDP territory.

3. (SBU) Villages along the route appeared full, and residents were
working their fields, going to busy markets, and moving freely along
the road. Emboff saw many young men, evidence that CNDP are
probably not forcibly recruiting among the local towns. CNDP
soldiers are present in most villages along the road, but their
numbers were small - only one or two visible troops in most
villages. Most towns along this crowded corridor boast a
development project of some kind, and NGOs continue to operate in
CNDP territory. Life goes on much as it did before the CNDP
occupation in this intensively cultivated strip of North Kivu.

MONUC: business as usual

4. (SBU) Emboffs were escorted to Rutshuru by two MONUC vehicles,
but two dozen international press made the trip without any visible
security. The route includes separate MONUC jurisdictions, and
emboffs' convoy was handed off between three separate MONUC escorts
at 25-kilometer intervals. MONUC continues to operate a base of
several hundred Indian peacekeepers in Rutshuru, apparently accepted
by CNDP troops. The local MONUC commander, who hosted Poloff, EU
rep and TDY A/RSO for lunch after attending Nkunda's speech, said
his troops had been "pelted" with rocks on several occasions, both
in Rutshuru and other towns along the route. He downplayed any
threat to MONUC's operations by the public, stating that local
residents did not understand the MONUC mandate, and sometimes
demanded a more aggressive military response and/or protection.

5. (SBU) The MONUC commander boasted that his blue-turbaned Sikh
troops were "the best soldiers in the world," while stressing that
his Chapter 7 mandate did not include assaults on rebel forces
unless they threatened the local population or MONUC. Although new
to the Rutshuru command, he said MONUC operations have not changed
much since the CNDP occupied Rutshuru and environs in early
November. Mai Mai militias remained active some 10-15 kilometers
north of Rutshuru, and MONUC troops have come under fire from Mai
Mai on a couple of occasions. The CNDP troops have taken over all
security tasks in Rutshuru. Those on display in Rutshuru appeared
to be disciplined and relaxed, but this is not always the case. The
major said MONUC continues to play in important role as a
"deterrent" to combatant atrocities. "They know we are watching

6. (SBU) An IDP camp has sprung up on the fringe of the Rutshuru
MONUC base, and residents are serviced by WFP and other humanitarian
NGOs. The major said many IDPs are content to remain in the camp
because they receive food and shelter. He doubted that local IDPs
were primarily motivated by insecurity, although some came from
areas further north where conflict continues. Commenting on the calm
situation and general lack of tension in Rutshuru, he said residents
were pragmatic, switching loyalties to the CNDP, but without any
deeper ideological or ethnic motivation. The major said "whole

KINSHASA 00001049 002 OF 002

brigades" of FARDC troops had also gone over to the CNDP in
newly-occupied rebel territories, along with local police and most
low-level administrators. (Comment: this level of troop defection
is unconfirmed and is likely exaggerated. End comment.)

The Chairman speaks

7. (SBU) Nkunda kept the crowd of about 2,000 waiting for two hours
before his speech on November 22. In the interim, an MC kept up a
steady patter of pro-CNDP comments, and a local hip hop trio
entertained the crowd with a rap extolling the CNDP's virtues. CNDP
security checked bags at the stadium gate, while a dozen armed
troops patrolled the 800-meter perimeter. Arriving in a late model
Toyota Land Cruiser(reg. NK 6451 BB), Nkunda was greeted by pygmy
dancers and a young girls' dance troupe, prompting him to descend
from the dais in the stadium stands and join in the dancing. A
local brass band played religious songs - "Onward Christian
Soldiers" seemed to be a particular favorite. Some two dozen
international and local press swarmed around the "Chairman" on
arrival, and Nkunda clearly relished the attention. Notably, Nkunda
was dressed in U.S. Army Advanced Combat fatigues (which are not
commercially available). The crowd gave Nkunda a rather tepid
welcome, but their attendance appeared to be voluntary. A local
contact told emboff he was "told" to attend, but he was not forced
or threatened. Local residents, including many from nearby
villages, clapped spontaneously at several points in the speech, but
the response was more polite than enthusiastic.

8. (SBU) Speaking without notes for some 40 minutes, Nkunda
delivered an effective public outreach speech, stressing that he
represented all Congolese, and not just the Tutsi. He switched
fluently between Kiswahili, Kinyarwandan, Kinande, Kihunde and
French to emphasize the local nature of his rebellion, urging the
populace not to fear his soldiers. Nkunda criticized the planned
deployment of 3,000 more UN troops, saying they would not bring
peace and were unnecessary if the Congo people stood together.
Nkunda did not repeat his threat to march on Kinshasa to overturn
the government of Joseph Kabila, but stated that if the FARDC
invades his territory, "we will destroy them."

9. (SBU) Nkunda introduced 10 CNDP military commanders and 10 new
administrators to replace those who fled when the CNDP took over the
district administrative center. He noted that some Congolese had
feared he would import officials from Rwanda, stressing that his new
team was drawn from the local community and well known in Rutshuru.
Nkunda repeatedly stated that his movement was multi-ethnic, and did
not depend on Rwanda for support. A local police force of 20
saluted the CNDP leader, and local contacts assured Poloff that the
force was comprised of the same police who had served the government
in Rutshuru. Nkunda said services would improve under his
administration. He showed off a young thief who had been caught
looting, and a Mai Mai militia soldier of about 13 or 14. "We do
not fight children," he stated, urging someone from the youth's
village to come forward and escort him back to his parents. He also
brought a few FARDC soldiers onto the dais to demonstrate that the
CNDP does not kill prisoners of war.

10. (SBU) Comment: Nkunda appears to be putting down roots in
Rutshuru. Recruiting local administrators, winning the allegiance
of the local police, and assuring the population that the CNDP will
protect them indicate plans to stay in the area. Declaring loyalty
to the CNDP is an act of survival for most residents, but those who
actively support Nkunda would be at risk if the area falls to the
government. The 80 kilometer road from Goma to Rutshuru is only a
small slice of CNDP territory, and not necessarily representative of
their presence elsewhere. In the nearby town of Kiwanja, for
example, over 20 persons believed to be civilians were killed
earlier in November, almost certainly by troops loyal to Nkunda and
his deputy, Jean Bosco. Some press reports highlight intimidated
Rutshuru residents' hesitation to criticize the CNDP leader.
Nevertheless, even the local MONUC Commander told Poloff after the
speech that Nkunda did not appear as bad as he is depicted. The
CNDP Chairman has better public relations skills than the GDRC, and
his performance in Rutshuru on November 22 showed off his political
abilities and ambitions. End comment.


© Scoop Media

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