RUBAVU - Thirty-five Rwandans, who were arrested, tortured and kept in various ‘safe houses’ for months in Goma, DR Congo, on allegations that they were on their way to joining Congolese rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda have been freed.
They were released on December 10 and have since comeback home. Safe houses refer to ungazetted and illegal detention centers.
Speaking to reporters shortly after their return at Rubavu District Police headquarters, the victims alleged that they were arrested and tortured for being Rwandans.
John Ndayisenga, 19, one of the victims claimed to have spent over two months in a ‘safe house’ at TD in Goma town.
He lamented: “I had gone to buy some of the household commodities due to the fact that I had little money and things were cheaper there.
The Congolese soldiers took away the temporary document I had got from the border, destroyed it and forced me into some house where I found other Rwandans who had been arrested in the same way.”
Asked why they were arrested, Ndayisenga said that DRC soldiers suspected almost every Rwandan youth in Goma to be on his way to joining Nkunda’s troops.
He said that they were beaten, tortured and threatened to be killed if they did not tell the truth of their alleged intentions to join the Congolese rebellion.
“They were so hostile to us and showed hatred against Rwandans. There are more Rwandans illegally detained in safe houses in Goma in places such as TD, Chez Merchant, Katindo and Rumangabo,” he alleged.
Jean Paul Uwitonze, 20, who is a resident of Nyabirasi Sector, Rubavu District claimed to have been detained at Rumangabo for a month.
He alleged that in addition to torture, DRC troops took away their belongings.
Uwitonze said: “I was grazing cows near the border because I live very near the border. The cows crossed to the other side and when I was on my way to bring them back, I met DRC soldiers.
“They arrested me, took away some of the cows and left others to cross back to the Rwandan side. I have been in jail for one month and I have scars all over my body from the torture they meted out on me. Life was terrible in safe houses because we were starved; we spent days with no food.”
He advised Rwandans especially the youth to avoid visiting Goma, alleging that DRC soldiers are hostile to all Kinyarwanda- speaking people and have always connected them to Gen. Nkunda.
Rubavu Mayor, Ramadan Baringayabo, had earlier advised residents in the district to cut visits to the neighbouring Goma to avoid such troubles.
He also advised them to always cross the border with full documents and after alerting some of their relatives to help the district authorities follow them up in case of any arrests.
This is the second time Rwandans are released from Congolese safe houses in Goma, the Capital of North Kivu Province.
On September 4, a group of 12 Rwandans was released by North Kivu authorities and handed over to Rubavu District after they had been illegally arrested, detained and tortured in various safe houses in Goma town, which borders Gisenyi.
The continuous releases are attributed to an earlier agreement which was signed by the governor of the Rwanda’s Western Province, Penelope Kantarama, and Fera Rutayikirwa, the vice mayor of the North Kivu Province. In the agreement, the two parties agreed to work hand-in-hand to solve the security threats, especially the illegal arrests and torture of Rwandan citizens who cross the border to the neighboring Goma.