At the military intelligence headquarters cell, La Forge and Abega were separated for about two weeks. After which, they met again and were free to mingle around with other detainees.
Suddenly, around midnight on January 20, 2019, more than a month after arrest, La Forge and Abega were awaken.
La Forge narrates: “Everyone in the cell speculated that we were being transferred to Kinshasa’s Ndolo military prison. They said conditions there were better, with access to telephone. The detainee in my cell, who was like the leader of my cell, said he was about to be released, promising to visit me at Ndolo. I responded in a rather weak tone in French ‘ce n’est pas de bonne augure’…”
The two FDLR men were rushed to an office where they were handcuffed. The Congolese soldiers who had taken their belongings didn’t return anything. As they drove, one of the soldiers guarding them spoke in Lingala language, telling others ‘these ones are going back to their country.’
“An argument erupted among the soldiers as his colleagues strongly condemned him for divulging such sensitive information before detainees. They abused him,” said La Forge. “I think they had been told not to say anything, suspecting that maybe if we found out we were being transported to Rwanda, we could fight them to stop it. It appears Abega had also heard. We pinched each other, as I whispered to him; ‘It’s over’…”
They arrived at the airport and there was a civilian commercial plane waiting. “One other soldier said to us openly without any hesitance in Swahili, ‘Tunabarudisha kwenyu’,” said La Forge.
They were boarded as the Congolese left. The flight had few passengers. La Forge was made to sit on the window seat, with another person on the aisle seat. Abega was also seated in similar fashion a distance away.
“The men clearly looked like people who knew about our situation,” said La Forge.
The flight landed at Kigali International Airport the following morning at 6am.
It was a Monday.
Eight months later, in the wee hours of September 18, La Forge’s reclusive military commander Gen Mudacumura was killed, aged 54.
Daughter’s wedding in Rwanda
The journey of how the former FDLR spokesman gained the name that made him the face of a militia which implemented a genocide, is quite interesting.
At the Kigali airport, the plane’s door opened. “The thing I remember is that after the plane door opened, a man entered, probably a senior official, saying in a combination of Kinyarwanda; ‘Basohoke one by one’…we were taken out separately. Abega moved first into his waiting vehicle. Then I followed into another. You couldn’t see anything outside,” said La Forge.
He was taken to a location he doesn’t know to date, but remembers it was “so nice”. It was a room with a large-sized new mattress and had fitted cardboards. “The tiles and walls were so clean. Actually, it was far better than this room in which we are seated,” he said referring to the room in which he and The Chronicles met.
He says was given bedcover and sheets, plus personal hygiene items like toothpaste, bathing soap and body lotion. “Different people came to my room, but the one thing I remember is they all repeatedly said; ‘Don’t worry, you are back home. You can rest as much as you would like’…,” he told us.
He says the food was so good with different diets including rice, potatoes, meat and vegetables. He had three meals daily. He was given a large cup of porridge with sugar every morning. There was always a box of bottled mineral water at all times in the room.
He said: “I remember it was after three or four days and this person who appeared to be a senior officer came and said: ‘You look better now. Since you arrived here, you had lost your mind. Don’t worry, nothing will happen to you.’…I started regaining confidence that maybe these people are not as bad as I thought.”
Sometime later, he began interrogations by Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB) agents. He identified the RIB interrogators by name. On April 8, 2019, the two men were presented before Gasabo Primary Court in Kigali. It was the first time the world saw them after months of speculation.
The were denied bail and remanded at Mageragere prison to date. La Forge was charged with 6 counts including being members of a terrorist group (FDLR), engaging in terrorist activities, and conniving with a foreign government and other negative groups to wage war on Rwanda. He has pleaded guilty to 4 of the charges.
The verdict on their case which was handled by the High Court Chamber for International Crimes (HCCIC) based in Southern Rwanda, is due this December 15, 2021. It will be exactly three years on day they were arrested at the Congolese-Ugandan border.
La Forge completed college education at Nyakinama in 1992. He went to teach in a private secondary school. He fled Rwanda in July 1994, as the genocide against the Tutsi had been stopped and multitudes crossed into Zaire, now DRC.
He returned to Rwanda in May 1997. “These legs you see walked thousands of kilometers until I came back home,” he said.
La Forge again fled Rwanda a year later, crossing clandestinely to join militia group, Party for the Liberation of Rwanda (PALIR), which had been operating in eastern Congo. He declined to say who helped him cross to the militia group.
La Forge’s elder brother, Lt. Col. Léonard Nkundiye formerly in the notorious presidential guards before the Genocide against the Tutsi —was deputy chief of staff of the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda – ALIR and coordinator of the activities of its political wing, PALIR, until his killing in 1998.
PALIR is remembered for issuing bounty for American citizens. In June 1996, it offered a $1,000 bounty for the head of every American killed in Rwanda, and $1,500 for that of U.S. Ambassador to Kigali Robert Gribbin.
In later 2000, La Forge joined newly formed Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR-FOCA), that brought together all genocidal forces. He worked in the media and communications department throughout, until his appointment in 2010 as its Spokesman after his predecessor was also captured, now in Rwandan jail. La Forge never worked in radio or newspaper before.
When La Forge fled Rwanda in 1998, he left a wife and daughter born that year in commune Nyamutera, part of current Burera district. He says he never married again in Congo. The family visited him several times at Mageragere prison before the COVID-19 pandemic when all visits were stopped.
The day he joined FDLR, he found an unwritten rule where every recruit had to forget their real names and adopt alias. The Chronicles was curious to know how he choose his. He said: “It is the first time anyone has asked me how I became La Forge Fils Bazeye. In court, there was some attempt, but they didn’t ask for details like you are doing.”
On the way to meet the person who recruited him into FDLR, he says he encountered a Rwandan blacksmith fabricating various items from metals. In French, they are referred to as Le Forgeron.
He told The Chronicles: “The moment they asked which non-de-guere I will use, the words La Forge came to my mind. And when I became spokesman, they told me I couldn’t use a French name, so I added on my father’s name to become La Forge Fil Bazeye, which means La Forge the son of Bazeye.”
As we prepared to separate, we asked La Forge to tell us one last thing on his mind. He said he had learnt that his daughter was scheduled to get married.
“I have requested the prison to grant me at least 10 minutes to speak to my daughter on phone,” he said. “As a father, I want to wish her well. That phone call will make me very happy, if granted.”