Surrounded by bodyguards armed with RPGs, Kalashnikovs, and an iPhone, rebel leader Sultani Makenga sits on a fold-out camping chair near the top of a hill that was a base for government troops until a few days ago.
Appearing self-satisfied – if slightly bashful despite the large pistol on his hip – Mr. Makenga was alternately defensive and belligerent as he addressed journalists for the first time on Sunday.
“We’re not here to take towns, we’re here to voice our problems,” Makenga says, several hours after his troops stormed the center of the strategic town of Rutshuru. “Maybe one day the government will listen to us and resolve the problems.”
Makenga says the latest rebel offensive, which saw them sweep into several towns close to the Ugandan border, was only a reaction to a government attack on rebel positions in the surrounding hills, and by Monday his troops appeared to have moved out of some of the towns they captured.
But many doubt that Makenga is even the real leader of the rebel group.
The UN says that Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, a warlord who is known as “The Terminator” and wanted by the International Criminal Court, is really heading the rebellion.
Meanwhile others say that Laurent Nkunda, the charismatic leader of the earlier rebellion and Makenga’s former boss, might be pulling the strings – even though he has not been heard from since he was arrested by Rwanda in early 2009.
Makenga insists he is in charge, but whoever the real leader is, having proved they can defeat the government forces, the rebels are feeling confident – and claim they could march on Goma, the regional capital of Congo’s North Kivu state.
“The government of Congo will determine my move,” Makenga says. “If the government wants the problem to be solved by war, I am ready to fight. If they want peace talks, we will do that.”
For now, though, talks seem unlikely.