Between 10-11pm yesterday, armed assailants attacked Kaguhu cell in Kinigi sector and Kabazungu cell in Musanze sector – all in Musanze district, northern province.
The first news about the attack emerged very early Saturday morning due to the remoteness of the areas. However, early morning, pictures were circulating in WhatsApp groups of local villagers fleeing as gunfire raged in the forest far away from their homes.
The first official statement about the attach was from the Police at 11:29am on Saturday. Police Spokesman CP John Bosco Kabera said armed unknown assailants killed 8 people and left 18 injured, and these were hospilised but did not name the hospitals.
He said the attackers were armed with crude traditional weapons and guns. CP Kabera only mentioned that the attack was in Kinigi sector.
For starters, this Kinigi sector is partly covered by the Virunga National Park, home of the famous rare mountain gorillas, one of Rwanda’s most prized exports and tourism dollar earners. There are various high-end hotels in this region including one where Microsoft founder Bill Gates and top Hollywood celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio have stayed previously.
It means that some international tourists were in the area when the attack took place, even though they hit villages far away from the active tourist zone.
As for Musanze sector, it is next inside Musanze district, raising more questions as to how the attackers managed to reach this far inside Musanze district without detection.
By virtue of it being such a key economic source for the country, and proximity to DR Congo, the region has obvious heavy military presence. There will be more questions as to how such an attack could have happened.
According to initial reports from local villagers who were fleeing from the area into other sectors and Musanze, the attackers were speaking Kinyarwanda, with heavy accent. The villagers also said the assailants were rebels of the democratic forces for the liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
How does the FDLR come into this area? Up until 1999, this area specifically was home of the so called “abacengezi”, the last remnants of the former government which had executed the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. The abacengezi operations spread across northwestern Rwanda.
Since the ex-army fled across into Zaire, now DR Congo, they have operated in different spots in North and South Kivu provinces. In North Kivu, they operate openly in a triangle between Nyanzale, Kitchanga and Rutshuru towns.
Just as the dense Virunga park covers large parts of Rwanda’s northwestern region, it stretches into DRC and Uganda.
For years, the FDLR have stayed put on the Congolese side of Virunga park. According to Congo researcher Christoph Vogel, in a recent blog post on the killing of FDLR commander Lt Gen Sylvestre Mudacumura, this area had been the turf for the group for many years – helping the FDLR’s hide-and-run strategy when facing military pressure.
Vogel is a former member of the UN security council group of experts on DR Congo. This team, over the years, has detailed FDLR presence in Virunga, which the militia group uses as a source of charcoal which they supply to others regions.
They provide protection to people illegally burning charcoal, and then these suppliers also pay taxes to FDLR in territories like Bishusha directly bordering the park.
As of mid 2017, as par the UN Experts report of that year, FDLR generated up to CGF 8.5 million ($6,000) each week from illegal taxes on the production and CGF 12-15 million ($8,500-$10,700) from taxes on the sales of charcoal produced in all the areas around Virunga forest.
However, FDLR also shares the region of eastern Congo with countless armed groups.