Ex-child soldiers seek their parents
MUSANZE – Former child soldiers, who had been conscripted into the DRC-based Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and RUD-Urunana militias as well as other insurgence groups, have appeal for assistance in tracing their parents.
FDLR is largely composed of elements responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The majority of the former child combatants have no idea about the whereabouts of their parents since most of them were enlisted into the armed group at the time when their parents were still living in DRC.
“I am waiting for a time when I will meet my parents, this is my biggest dream. I don’t know whether they all died, I was told that we separated during the Minova war in 2000. When I grew up, I found myself in the hands of Col Kahasha, I want to know my parents’ whereabouts,” Janvier Havugukize, 18, said.
Currently, there are 28 ex-child soldiers at the newly constructed Muhoza Child Ex-combatants Rehabilitation Centre, where they are undergoing psycho-social support, civic education and vocational training.
“I can’t remember all war engagements I participated in, enfant soldats, as they referred to us, had no protection; there are hundreds of child soldiers who died in the course of fighting because they were inexperienced and sometimes lacked ammunition,” said Claude Tuyishime, 18, a former fighter in RUD-Urunana.
“I was taken from Uganda in 2007 when someone called Musafiri took us from Kampala promising to give us jobs. We were ferried off to (DR) Congo, those that tried to escape were shot dead, I have never seen my parents since,” said Samuel Ngarukiyintwari, 18.
The Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission created the centre to help rehabilitate former child soldiers, aged 13 and 18 years. Raphael Rucyahana, the director of the centre, said that the children were adapting to a new lifestyle as they learn society values.
“The commission, in partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross, are trying to locate their parents, we are working together to solve the problem. Reintegration is a long process,” Rucyahana said.
Recent internal divisions within the top command of FDLR have significantly weakened the group, forcing hundreds of fighters to lay down their weapons and repatriate.
Dozens of commanders of the ragtag outfit have crossed over to Rwanda for the last couple of years.
The RDRC, under its reintegration programme, supports ex-combatants as they strive for economic self-sustenance and prosperity in the broader framework of poverty reduction and national development.
Rwanda has won wide recognition and honours for its efforts in rehabilitating and reintegrating child soldiers returning from the FDLR rebel ranks back into their communities.
The country’s success story is now used as the blueprint for an ambitious and high profile United Nations Security Council campaign to name and shame groups that recruit and use child soldiers.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, was recently quoted as saying that she had personally witnessed the effect of this process in Rwanda.
Contact email: bonny.mukombozi[at]newtimes.co.rw