3 December 2012

Rwanda: FDLR Attack Shows They're a Spent Force

Photo: New Times
Ammunition seized from rebels.

It was in Busasamana, Bugeshi and Cyanzarwe sectors of the Rubavu district (Western province), that heavily armed FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) rebels attacked the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF) in the morning of Tuesday, in a fight lasting for about 10 hours.

On the Rwandan side, the attack killed one civilian, and three others were taken hostage, while 4 civilians and 4 RDF soldiers were injured. On the rebels' side, according to the RDF spokesperson Brig Gen Joseph Nzabamwita, over 10 were killed, with 5 dead bodies found on Rwandan soil. "We estimate that over 10 rebels were shot dead because we were told by some of the citizens who were taken hostage and then released, that the rebels carried 7 dead bodies, adding to the 5 we found," Nzabamwita said.

Captain Justin Ndamutsa, an RDF officer leading one of the RDF's positions which were attacked explained that, "It was in standby hours (4pm-4h45pm), and our soldiers who were on the listening posts saw the rebels approaching."

Cpt Ndamutsa's soldiers are settled on Muti hill, Runshungu cell of the Cyanzarwe sector, near the Kibumba valley separating Rwanda and DRC. On the other side of the valley is Nyamuragira volcano and a forest where the rebels are suspected to have come from. "Some were already on the hill, and others were coming from the valley. In my assessment, there were between 60 and 100. I deployed two platoons, shot at the rebels, and then after withdrew," Ndamutsa stated, adding that the rebels were heavily armed with RPG shells and other heavy arms. "We captured some RPGs, identification documents and uniforms."

During the fire exchange, two rebels were captured, one of them called Martin Girukwayo. "We attacked as one company, a total of 250 soldiers," he told assembled journalists. "I was injured while we were trying to attack Muti hill (Cyanzarwe sector) and failed to flee. That's when RDF captured me. There were 60 of us."

He confirmed that the rebels attacked from Nyamuragira. "We were commanded by Major Ruhinda, and were told that we were supposed to conquer Muti hill-Runshungu village of Cyanzarwe sector (Rubavu district).Our commanders had told us that defeat was not an option; we had to conquer the hill and were then supposed to advance to other parts of the country," said Girukwayo, who joined the FDLR in 1998 at Masisi (North Kivu).

As for the civilians, they had fled to the nearest areas, but later returned to their village. "When we heard the shooting, we were afraid and fled to the nearest sectors. After the fighting, the army told us that it was safe to return to our homes," recounted Monique Mutuyimana.

Mutuyimana's cow, which she had received from the Girinka program, was killed by rebels. "My cow was shot by rebels on their way to the hill," affirmed the widow.

According to RDF spokesperson, the animal will be replaced soon. "She was identified as vulnerable and has no other means. The cow was of great importance to her; we have reported the issue to the authorities, and she will receive another cow soon," Nzabamwita said.

Pierre Claver Bagaragaza, a 32-year-old from Runshungu village, who was initially abducted by the rebels, said he had to carry their items. "They included kitchen items, food and other packaged things."

He was taken across the border but was later released, though he couldn't explain the reason why.

FARDC support

Considering that the FDLR rebels were using new heavy arms, had very expensive equipments, and some of them were wearing FARDC uniforms, RDF officers have concluded that they have a supporting force behind them, probably the Congolese army (FARDC).

"A rebel group cannot have such ammunitions without being supported," said the RDF spokesman who accused the FARDC of being behind it. "We have found that most of the rebels were wearing FARDC uniforms, and had IDs delivered by DRC's authorities, they are supported by FARDC, or some FARDC officers," he said, although he cautioned that he wasn't sure the this support was still going on.

Recently, General Gabriel Amisi who was the commander of Congolese ground forces was suspended due to accusations that he runs a huge arms smuggling network supplying weapons and ammunition to criminal groups and rebels, including Congolese rebels. A United Nations report accusing him of selling weapons to criminal and rebel groups read that "Amisi oversees a network distributing hunting ammunition for poachers and armed groups," including the Mai Mai, Raia Mutomboki, Nyatura (an FDLR Unit) and Raia Mutomboki, which operate in the country's East and are accused of widespread atrocities.

JVM investigation

The International Conference on Great Lakes Region (ICGLR)'s Joint Verification Mechanism (JVM) which controls and patrols the border has delegated a team to investigate the issue. The team is composed of two colonels (A Burundian and a Rwandan) and two Majors (Ugandan, Tanzanian). "We are analyzing the issue and we'll make recommendations to the ICGLR so that such incidents cause by the FDLR can be stopped and the rebels themselves prevented from harming the region's security," Burundian Colonel Gabriel Ntirandekura, who heads the JVM team on ground in Rubavu.

"We have been fighting the rebels (FDLR) alone, sometimes helped by DRC's army, but now the 11 state members of the ICGLR will be helping us fight them," said Brig Gen Nzabamwita.

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