The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Inside FDLR Camp - Ex - Combatants Speak Out

Congolese population in the eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are fed up with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and want to wipe it out, deserters say.

'I escaped because I saw no reason why I should keep on wandering with the gun and carrying heavy loads yet I heard that others would return home and be pardoned.

This comes amidst reports that the Genocidal force based in the east of the DRC has, since last year, been regrouping and reorganising in order to attack Rwanda.

The FDLR comprises remnants of the former Rwanda Armed Forces (ex-FAR) and Interahamwe militia, which executed the mass slaughter of over one million people during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. It is reported that since April 2012 when the security situation in eastern DRC worsened following an FARDC mutiny and afterward M23 rebellion, they are reorganising with intent to attack Rwanda.

On Sunday, The New Times spoke to some of the batch of 48 ex-combatants who arrived at Mutobo Demobilisation and Reintegration centre, on Friday.

Faustin Rugwizangoga, 36, a father of three, was an FDLR 'sergeant major' and hails from Musanze district. He says he joined the infiltrators [Abacengezi] in 1998, and later, the Forces Combattantes Abacunguzi (FOCA), FDLR's military wing when it was formed in 2000.

Rugwizangoga was based in FDLR's second division in South Kivu before his decision to escape, last month, when the FDLR ordered a massive relocation of its fighters and civilian population.

He said in December 2012, the commanders ordered the movement of all people including civilians because "they could bear no more of the assaults" orchestrated by a local Congolese self-defence group known as Raïa Mutomboki that is opposed to the FDLR.

"We heard commander Sogo [an FDLR commander in South Kivu] say that 'all of you, over 8,000 people' must hurry and evacuate the area controlled by Raïa Mutomboki for our own safety," Rugwizangoga said.

According to Rugwizangoga, the Raïa Mutomboki fought fierce pitched battles with FDLR in which many FDLR fighters died.

"The war waged by the Raïa Mutomboki was serious, and secondly, our fighters would be shot, get injured and not get medical treatment. There was also a problem of poor feeding."

Rugwizangoga described Raïa Mutomboki as "very angry Congolese people who are largely from the Balega and Batembo tribes."

Plan to regroup

Rugwizangoga claimed he knew nothing about FDRL's plans to invade Rwanda but said all he knew was that "we were moving towards the Haut Plateaux, in the Minembwe hills, to link up with [Brig. Gen.] Masunzu," the commander of the FARDC South Kivu military region, who is reported to be supporting the militia group in its current plan to attack Rwanda.

"Others were saying that while there we would join up with Kayumba Nyamwasa. However, this is just a rumor that I cannot verify."

Escape

It was during the December trek that Rugwizangoga and others found opportunities to escape.

"Among us all, no one could make this decision and inform the other. This is not something you would tell someone else. When, in the past, I first planned to escape, I told my wife. She innocently told her friends and I was caught and was punished," Rugwizangoga said.

Rugwizangoga said he thinks that the FDLR's finances come from outside the DRC as well as what they gather by looting from within. During times of peace such as from 2003 to 2008, he said, especially before Operation Umoja Wetu, the militia was involved in illegal mining and commercial activities he explained.

Another returnee, Alex Nshimiyimana, 19, a former FDLR child soldier who was based in Masisi, North Kivu, said that the new wave of movements by his Montana battalion offered him a rare chance to escape.

He said that some elements in his battalion orchestrated the two attacks by FDLR on Rwandan soil last year.

"We heard that we were going to attack and capture Rwanda. This was what we heard while coming from Sylivestre Mudacumura [FDLR supreme military commander]. They said that we had failed in the past because DRC President Kabila had denied us access." Nshimiyimana said.

"I escaped because I saw no reason why I should keep on wandering with the gun and carrying heavy loads yet I heard that others would return home and be pardoned."

According to Nshimiyimana, FDLR child soldiers' everyday tasks include being sent to find food, a task they accomplish by terrorising Congolese communities.

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