Uganda has deported 32 Rwandan nationals, most of whom are pastors of the pentecostal ADEPR Church.
The group arrived at the Kagitumba border post on Thursday, at about 9p.m, with most of them having been “illegally arrested and detained” for months.’
Twenty-eight of the deportees are ADEPR members – 24 pastors, three accountants and a teacher. They told The New Times they were arrested at a church in the Kampala suburb of Kibuye on July 23.
Pastor Augustin Maboko, one of people who had been detained in Uganda since July, is among the deportees.
Pastor Augustin Maboko, 47, said he had been living in Uganda since 2007, mostly serving as an ADEPR evangelist in Kibale district in western Uganda.
He hails from Rubona Cell, Kigembe Sector in Gisagara District in Rwanda.
"They found us in a meeting at church, we were 40 of us. They came in with guns and handcuffs and sticks, they got us out of the church, handcuffed us, bundled us into cars, and took us to prison,” he narrated.
The next day, the group was taken for interrogation at the head office of Uganda’s military intelligence service, CMI, in Mbuya, Kampala.
"We were interrogated with hoodies over our heads,” he said. “It was so terrifying, we could not see the interrogators and thought we were going to die”.
Maboko said that during their incarceration they had a meal once a day – at 1p.m.
The Rwandans were arrested by CMI operatives.
"When they arrested us they did not say what crime we had committed or anything else, even when they were bringing us here (at the border), they just handcuffed us and put us in a car, we thought we were being taken to another prison only to find ourselves here," he said.
Maboko said his wife and four children were in Kamwenge, western Uganda at the time of his arrest, “but I do not know where and how they are at the moment.”
"My message to fellow Rwandans is, ‘let's concentrate on working hard from home, because we are safe here.”
Jean de la Paix Bareke, 28, who comes from Mulindi in Gicumbi District, said he was arrested on the Ugandan side of the border on June 12 as he returned from a shopping errand in Kabale.
He said he was immediately driven to a military barracks in Kisolo and then transferred to another barracks in Mbarara where he spent two weeks.
"Two weeks later we were driven to CMI (head office) in Kampala,” he told this reporter at the border on Tuesday night.
"When I asked why I had been arrested, they kept telling me, 'you will know',” he said.
He was later asked whether he had ever served as a soldier in Rwanda, or if he had ever been involved in politics, which he denied.
"All the while they were hitting us,” he said. “I was blindfolded for all the three months I was there, I might have developed a problem with my sight.”
‘Detained for abandoning rebellion’
Jean Paul Harerimana, 31, one of the deportees, said he was arrested and incarcerated for months because he had deserted an anti-Rwanda armed group based in DR Congo.
Jean Paul Harerimana, one of the Rwandans deported from Uganda, says he had been recruited into a militia that seeks to destabilise Rwanda
He said he left for Uganda on January 24 this year and headed to Mubende district to visit relatives.
Harerimana hails from Gasovu Cell, Karambi Sector, Nyamasheke District in Western Province.
As he was about to return to Rwanda, in February, someone told him he could help him get a good job in mining. That’s how he ended up in DR Congo. Not in a well-paying job, but in the hands of a rebel group that seeks to destabilise Rwanda.
He said he was hoodwinked him into believing that he was heading to DR Congo to meet his prospective employer.
"I arrived in DR Congo early March. It soon occurred to me that the job I had been promised was a hoax,” he said, adding that he was forced to accept to join the rebel group as he did not know how he could leave the area and return home.
“I was unable to return home because I did not know which direction to take, I just found myself in the middle of nowhere, places I had never been to.
“That’s how I accepted to attend military training, which lasted two months,” he said.
He said he and 74 other recruits trained from a place known as "Ku Kabindi" in Rutshuru, North Kivu in eastern DR Congo.
"We were told that the organisation is called RUD, and its mission is to liberate Rwandans," he said.
RUD-Urunana is one of the splinter groups of the FDLR militia, remnants of the perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda.
Harerimana said a chance to escape came later when he started going out on “defence patrol”.
He said a resident in the area showed him the best way to escape and cross back to Uganda.
He took a motorcycle to Kisoro in south-western Uganda, from where he hoped to connect to Rwanda.
Unfortunately, he said, he was intercepted by CMI operatives.
"They held me at Kisoro saying they were conducting investigations, later they transferred me to a refugee camp and then a military base in Bwindi, where I spent a night before moving me to Kanungu the next day,” he said.
He spent a week in Kanungu after which he was taken to Mbarara where he stayed for two weeks and then to CMI headquarters in Kampala where he was detained for two-and-a-half months.
"Life in prison was horrible because I was being beaten every day, I can longer hear well as a result,” he said.
"I was never accused by CMI of anything, nothing really,” he added.
He said CMI had also arrested two other Rwandans who escaped from the rebel group in DR Congo in the same way as Harerimana.
Daphrose Mukanyandwi, one of the women who were deported Thursday night, speaks to the media.
The latest arrivals follow similar deportations of Rwandan citizens by Uganda over the last couple of months, with the Rwandan government saying that hundreds of its nationals remain in different detention centres in Uganda.
Kigali says the arrests are illegal and that most of those detained have been denied consular and legal services.
A growing body of evidence has pinned Uganda on rebel activities designed to destabilise Rwanda.
In March, Rwanda issued a travel advisory to Uganda saying Rwandans were not safe there.
The latest deportations come just days ahead of a scheduled bilateral meeting in Kigali next week during which the two countries are expected to discuss the implementation of a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the two sides in Luanda, Angola last month.
Both governments have since named members of a joint ad hoc commission provided for under the Luanda deal with view to iron out the issues that have strained ties between Kigali and Kampala in recent months.