Over 500 Rwandans who have been living behind FDLR rebels’ lines have been rescued and returned home since last week as the joint military operation by Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) intensifies.
The operation that was launched towards the end of last month is aimed at routing the rebels grouped under what they call the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
According to government officials the people who returned were both family members and others formerly held hostage by the rebels and had all been living in the Congolese jungles.
The Chairman of the Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission (RDRC), Jean Sayinzoga, told The New Times yesterday that those arriving in Rwanda since last week are wives and children of FDLR rebels or just former captives.
“Some are coming back home because they are scared of being caught in the crossfire of the ongoing operation while others are happy that they are no longer under Interahamwe’s captivity,” he said in a telephone interview.
Sayinzoga added that more Rwandans were arriving in the country through the Bukavu-Rusizi border in South-Western Rwanda while others had arrived through Goma-Rubavu in the North-West.
“Most of them are women and children and they said that they are afraid of the war,” he revealed.
The Rwandan government treats the refugees differently depending on whether they are ex-combatants or civilians.
Those who were identified as ex-combatants are kept in Mutobo rehabilitation camp, in Musanze District, for education or demobilization process while the civilians are directly sent to their homes after transiting in the camps of Nkamira and Nyagatare in Rubavu and Rusizi districts respectively.
“We provide for what can sustain them for two months when they rejoin their homes. We find plots for those who don’t have any property,” said Minister Protais Musoni whose ministry is partly charged with social welfare.
The Executive Secretary of the National Council for Refugees which is under the Ministry of Local Government (MINALOC), Innocent Ngango, said that 141 Rwandans arrived in Nyagatare camp in Rusizi District yesterday after crossing from the DRC.
“They are generally hungry and destitute but we have an emergency plan to help them,” Innocent Ngango said. He revealed that government had already sent 264 other civilians to their homes after they had crossed to Rwanda last week.
The operation to flush FDLR out of DRC was a result of a series of meetings between officials from both countries following frustration by DRC authorities over atrocities the rebels have committed for the last 15 years.