On the morning of Saturday December 22, more than 1,900 Rwandans arrived on Rwanda’s Rusizi entry point bordering DR Congo’s Bukavu town. They disembarked from DRC lorries onto waiting buses and lorries in Rwanda to Nyarushishi transit camp a few kilometers away.
According to DRC military in south Kivu, these people were combatants of the CNRD Rwandan rebel force and their dependants. It is the same narrative that has been advanced by Rwandan officials.
However, either by design, as The Chronicles reports, the identity of those repatriated is not as clear cut as the official narrative has painted them. Knowing who they are depends on which media you are reading, and where you are located.
Earlier, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi announced in Parliament on December 13 that 1,712 members of CNRD had been captured in Kalehe territory – 245 as armed combatants and 10 political leaders. The rest were their dependants. They were all in Nyamunyunyi military camp, located more than 30km north of Bukavu.
Three days later on December 16 after President Tshisekedi announcement, 291 people were brought on trucks by DRC army and handed to RDF at Rusizi border. Both said said they were the armed combatants and commanders of CNRD.
According to records given to media at border, this group included one of FLN militia commanders Gen. Gatabazi Joseph alias Gatos Ave Marie, 3 Colonels and 4 Majors. Among them also included Cpt. Nsengimana Herman, who has been spokesman of FLN often speaking on BBC and VOA greatlakes services.
It is then on December 22 that over 1,900 were repatriated, as indicated above. It was the last batch, but as you can see, the number had increased and had 71 more combatants – perhaps indication more surrendered after President Tshisekedi’s announcement.
The above has been the official narrative on the identity of these repatriees. The other version, advanced by ex-Rwandan Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu and ‘Hotel Rwanda’ movie personality Paul Rusesabagina, has given shocking details.
As The Chronicles has detailed previously, Twagiramungu based in Belgium and Rusesagabina in USA, have, in online statements, identified themselves as leaders of Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD).
It is a political grouping of Twagiramungu and Rusesabagina groups, and CNRD – which split from FDLR militia in 2017. Together, they formed a joint military wing called FLN, which has been attacking southwestern Rwanda since June 2018.
The journey of these nearly 2,000 Rwandans repatriated, including babies, began on November 11. On this day, Twagiramungu and Rusesabagina issued online statement claiming that “Rwandan troops” had surrounded Gitindiro refugee camp in Kalehe territory which was housing “Rwandan Hutu refugees”.
How these refugees ended up in Kalehe has been detailed in our special report: How Rwanda’s Ethnic Conflicts Have Played Out In Congo’s Kalehe Region Since 1950s
A week later, on November 21, a contingent of UN peacekeepers MONUSCO visited the area and actually held a meeting with the people. It is unclear up to this point whether this is a camp or ordinary villages settled by Rwandans.
Five days later on November 26, Twagiramungu and Rusesabagina issued another online statement reporting that the Gitindiro camp had in previous two days been under fierce attack. They reported, with photos, that DRC army helicopters were dropping bombs aided by Rwandan troops.
In the same statement, Twagiramungu and Rusesabagina ranted what they condemned as silence of the international community despite their alarm of an impending disaster in Kalehe.
For people in Rwanda, there was no information about these attacks in local media. Except for occasional interviews of Twagiramungu on BBC and VOA greatlakes, and social media – accessed by few Rwandans.
It is after this point that a site www.rwandatribune.rw became active. Day after another, it published rare graphic details of supposed high ranking CNRD or FLN commanders killed or captured.
There is no official record about the ownership of this site. The military in Rwanda has not made any official comment on the FLN operations. It has been this site which was reporting. On a few occasions, the DRC military in south Kivu posted updates on Twitter.
In Rwanda, local media has depended on the Rwanda Tribune site and FADRC Twitter handle. No media has reported about the numerous statements by Twagiramungu and Rusesabagina.
Some of the local media are either unaware about these statements, or ignore them deliberately because that’s not their editorial lines, or others know them but prefer to leave the statements so as not to be singled out by the authorities in Rwanda as promoting insurgency.
While obscure blogs associated with Rwandan exiles have continued to report on the military operations as FARDC aided by RDF targeting Rwandan Hutu refugees, – the site Rwanda Tribune, FARDC on Twitter and local Rwandan media have reported them as FARDC military operations to rout out CNRD/FLN in South Kivu.
The first third party account on the operations in the Kalehe territory came on December 18, more than a month after the first attacks became public. A MONUSCO spokesperson told UN-funded Radio Okapi that David McLachlan-Karr, the UN Resident Coordinator & Humanitarian Coordinator, had expressed his concerns to the Kinshasa government.
He had raised concerns about the deteriorating conditions in Nyamunyunyi military camp for the FARDC where all those captured or surrendered are being kept. According to the UN, 21 people had died, but not much detail was provided.
On the same day December 18, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement that 17 people, including nine children, have died in that military camp.
ICRC said that 1,400 people remain in the camp, noting that the “humanitarian situation at Nyamunyunyi military camp is extremely worrying”.
“We have transferred two wounded persons and ten sick children to the General Provincial Referral Hospital in Bukavu, which is currently saturated.”
Defeated and humiliated, at least as seen from Christmas message he issued on December 24, Twagiramungu’s tone is that of a very unhappy political leader whose rebel force has been decimated in a matter of weeks.
Here is how his message began: “Without saying too much, I would like that you use this Christmas not to celebrate but to pay homage to those going to be hunted like animals in Congo’s forests, with some already killed or forcefully repatriated like bounty, who are also paraded like animals going to be placed in parks.”
Twagiramungu’s tone has suddenly change from a buoyant rowdy man warning President Paul Kagame in BBC and VOA interviews of imminent war, and how he, plus others had decided to take up arms since Kagame has refused to negotiate, – to again calling for dialogue.
“We will solve Rwanda’s problems by looking each other in the eyes to find solutions, but the talks shouldn’t be like those of Arusha Accord after which some went behind the backs of others…” said Twagiramungu.
When President Tshisekedi spoke, he said 95% of CNRD was finished. The repatriations was sign the operations are completed. However, more Rwandan rebel groups remain
In South Kivu still, there is P5 rebel force of Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa based in South Africa. The FDLR has some forces in South Kivu’s Mwenga territory. FDLR is largely based in North Kivu.
In North Kivu also, there is RUD-Urunana, which reportedly attacked Musanze district killing and injuring many. It also has leaders in France and US, one of them living in New Jersey. The other is Maj Faustin Ntilikina, whose son Frank Ntilikina plays in the New York Knicks – a top side in NBA. Faustin lives in France.