Feared Congo Warlord Arrested in Rwanda

When the news broke that General Laurent Nkunda, the leader of the Tutsi rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo, had been arrested, the response from the international community was both applause and trepidation.

Nkunda has been a major player in the civil war in Eastern Congo since the 1990s. He's seen as media-friendly and charismatic; he was once interviewed for "Nightline" by the movie star Ben Affleck.

He's also extremely dangerous. His fighters in the Congress for the National Defense of the People (CNDP) say that they are protecting the Tutsi minority in Eastern Congo from Hutu force known as the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR). Most of the FDLR fled neighboring Rwanda after being perpetrators of the country's notorious 1994 genocide of their Tutsi neighbors.

VIDEO: Congo Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda was apprehended by Rwandan troops.Play

Whatever his stated purpose, the reality of Nkunda's actions is that he is accused of ordering heinous war crimes against civilians and plundering Eastern Congo's numerous resources, according to Human Rights Watch and other humanitarian organizations.

Despite his insistence that he is a liberator, most experts and aid organizations consider him a warlord and see his arrest as a positive development for accountability and justice in the conflict.

They see particular justice in the fact that Nkunda was arrested in Rwanda, a country that has been an important ally for Nkunda for decades.

But Rwanda didn't turn on the rebel leader for nothing. In return for handing over DRC President Joseph Kabila's No. 1 nemesis, it appears that Rwandan troops have been given the go-ahead to hunt down the FDLR.

Last week about 4,000 Rwandan troops crossed the border and are fighting alongside Congolese troops in Hutu-rebel dominated areas. Cooperation between Rwanda and the DRC, sworn enemies up to this point, is also seen as a potentially positive development.

Analysts like Guillame Lacaille of the International Crisis Group do have concerns, however: If Rwandan troops, which invaded the area in the 1990s, stay too long they will be seen as occupiers again, spurring the rebel groups to fight harder and upsetting the general population.

Lacaille and other analysts say despite the situation looking positive in the short-term, the long-term consequence could be a violent "Groundhog Day" for the weary civilian population in Eastern Congo. "After decades of war the population is really, really tired of the fighting," says Lacaille. "Hundreds of thousands of refugees, and it's the general population who are the victims over and over again."

For years after Rwanda's invasion of Congo in the 1990's, observers say that the Rwandan government was continuing to wage a proxy war against the Hutu rebels and the Congolese army using Nkunda and his militia. Many analysts believe that because of the international community's collective guilt over the genocide, Rwanda essentially got a free pass when it came to Congo.

That took a sharp turn late last year when Nkunda stopped talking about protecting Tutsis in Congo and started demanding to be seen as a political leader with national stature. His October offensive wreaked havoc on the region. Hundreds of thousands of civilians, most already displaced from the decades-old civil war, were forced flee again and apparent war crimes were allegedly discovered. His CNDP forces even attacked some of the 18,000 U.N. Peacekeepers stationed in Eastern Congo.

The international community called it the biggest crisis in the DRC since the official war ended in 2002, which left 5 million people dead. U.N. Secretary General Ban ki Moon called the violence "unacceptable" and a special envoy was appointed to deal with the problem. DRC President Joseph Kabila blamed Rwanda for creating and perpetrating the conflict with its support of Nkunda. Rwandan President Paul Kagame fired back by saying Rwanda had nothing to do with conflict, and that the violence was the Congolese government's own fault for not rooting out the Hutu rebels and having an undisciplined army.

Turns out they were both right. In December a scathing U.N. report independently researched concluded that Nkunda was being backed by Rwanda, and that the Congolese military was collaborating with the Hutu milita.

Both governments denied the charges, but as a result, Rwanda, which has enjoyed being a darling of the West for the last several years, was under an uncomfortable spotlight. Criticism of Kagame's regime grew and European countries began threatening to withhold aid. It was obvious something had to give, and that something was apparently Nkunda.

"They decided to drop Nkunda because he was an embarrassment and was too costly," Lacaille told ABC News.

In a place where war lords reign supreme, the taking down of one of the most powerful is a sign of movement in the conflict; it's just not clear yet whether it's a move towards peace or another chapter in seemingly intractable war.