One thing seemed certain from the moment the bodies of the gorillas were found last July: Poachers had not killed them. Poachers who prey on gorillas leave an unmistakable calling card: They kidnap the infants and cut off the heads and hands of the adults—to be sold on the black market. But these bodies were left to rot where they fell, and the motherless infants left to starve to death.
What about the soldiers swarming in Virunga National Park? When Brent and I arrived this February in Goma, the grim capital of North Kivu only ten miles south of the park, Nkunda had just signed a peace agreement with the Congolese army, but his rebels still controlled Mikeno, the sector of the park inhabited by gorillas. Nkunda's troops are thought to have killed and eaten two mountain gorillas last year. The rebels had not allowed anyone in to see the creatures for six months, and most of the rangers had fled. Naturally we were told it would be impossible to go behind enemy lines. It wasn't, but first we would have to meet the "Chairman," as Nkunda prefers to be called.
Our audience takes place at a hilltop farmhouse near Kirolirwe, just west of the park in Masisi District, much of which Nkunda controls. The general is surrounded by armed bodyguards, but he himself is dressed in a sharp black suit, pressed white shirt, and sunglasses. He looks like a jazz musician, but don't be fooled.
Nkunda's soldiers have been accused of war crimes by Human Rights Watch, and Nkunda himself is "of interest" to the International Criminal Court. He is known for dragooning child soldiers. But he dismisses the charges with a wave of his hand. He tells me that all the incidents in question occurred when his troops and the Congolese army were a coalition force, so he was not in direct control of his soldiers.
"Even if our past was bad," Nkunda says, "I tell my people that we must always focus on the future."