GOMA - The main rebel group in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday suspended its participation in peace talks taking place in the eastern town of Goma after one of its delegates was arrested by security officials.
Reliable sources say Major Seraphin Mirindi, the military spokesman for dissident forces loyal to General Laurent Nkunda, was arrested Wednesday afternoon outside the venue of the peace talks called by the Congolese government.
The arrest angered the CNDP delegates who immediately pulled out of the talks in protest over what they said was deliberate harassment by the Congolese government.
The sources revealed that Mirindi’s arrest was ordered by President Joseph Kabila’s advisor, Marcelin Chishambo and a Monuc official from Kinshasa only identified as Christian.
They accused Seraphin Mirindi of allegedly being involved in the assassination in 2001 of president Laurent Desire Kabila, father to the current president.
Rowdy members of president Kabila’s Republican Guard then allegedly started harassing him demanding that the rebel officer be handed over to them. Monuc spokesman Kemal Saiki was quoted as saying it was a case of mistaken identity. It however later turned out that the Congolese and officials had mistaken him for a George Mirindi.
The CNDP dismissed the excuse saying that it was a deliberate attempt to derail the talks as Seraphin Mirindi was well known to Monuc and Congolese government officials because he is the rebels’ spokesperson.
“It was a case of ‘premeditated mistaken identity,” Mirindi said sarcastically. “We have decided to suspend our participation until the security of our people is guaranteed.”
Delegates to the peace conference are immune from arrest and prosecution.
A committee of about half a dozen prominent delegates among them, Bishop Malu Malu, Vital Kamelhe and Kamanzi Emmanuel, frantically tried to save the peace talks. They met a group of CNDP officials and gave them ‘verbal guarantees that they would neither be threatened nor harassed by the presidential guard.
Cracks in the peace conference first appeared on the opening day Sunday when the rebel delegation numbering about a dozen were shut out of the main hall and had to follow proceedings from a TV in an adjacent hall.
“It is obvious that some people are intent on making life difficult for us,” said a rebel source.
By the time we went to press, the rebels were still locked up in a meeting at their rebel headquarters near Goma to decide on their next move.