Chantal Kayitesi and the 1993 Mugali rescue mission

Chantal Kayitesi is forever grateful to the RPA now RDF soldiers who rescued her. / Courtesy

The footage of late Jean Carbonare crying on French TV 3 on 28 January 1993 can be found online, before going into tears, Carbonare said: “S’il vous plait, faites quelque chose” where he invited the international community to intervene and stop the Genocide which was being prepared.

Carbonare cried after the findings of a committee of the International Federation of Human Rights which he was part of that was established to investigate the massacres of the Bagogwe in the Northern Rwanda, mainly in former Kinigi, Mukingo and Nkuli provinces and other areas that included Gisenyi, Kibilira and Mutura.

The Bagogwe who were living on the foot of volcanic area from Kinigi to Rubavu were systematically killed from 1991-93. Most of them were men and young boys.

Their houses were burnt and destroyed, the survivors who included mainly women and children fled to different churches and schools.

RPA soldiers during the 1990-1994 Liberation War. / Paul Watson

In 1993, all Bagogwe men in former Kinigi Commune were killed except those who managed to flee to DRC. Women and children fled and gathered at Mugali Adventist Church in Musanze District.

Around 300 Bagogwe (women and children) gathered in that church, as their homes were destroyed fleeing the persecution of Interahamwe and their neighbors Later on they were joined by other refuges who were fleeing fighting between the then government soldiers and RPA forces.

When the Hutu refugees arrived they refused to be accommodated with Tutsi who were referred to as cockroaches and divided the church into two parts.

One night, the desperate government soldiers who were fleeing from the battle with RPA forces reached the area and asked to separate Hutu and Bagogwe refugees so as to burn the latter inside the church.

Chantal Kayitesi remembers a fateful day in February 1993, when the then government forces left her for dead after several beatings. Earlier, her uncles had been killed and she was lucky to escape to the Virunga Volcanic Park when her torturers thought she was going to die.

Unbelievably, while in the park during the morning of 17 February, Chantal met some soldiers who were wearing a uniform from that of Habyarimana’s forces.

With a soft voice she was asked “Urajya hehe” which loosely means; Where are you going? Terrified, Chantal replied “Ntaho” Nowhere.

After few exchanges, she was told “Humura Ntugipfuye” don’t worry, you are safe now. Chantal remembers that very moment as if it was yesterday. The journey of Chantal with Inkotanyi started that time. 

The few RPA soldiers, who can be described as scouts according to Chantal’s testimony- brought her immediately to Bisate, the nearest RPA position and her wounds were treated.

Chantal immediately informed RPA soldiers that she left a group of 300 Bagogwe who are going to be killed anytime by Government soldiers.

The same day, RPA soldiers organized a rescue mission and Chantal remembers seeing Gasabune, Nkotanyi and Kanyamutuzo, her extended family relatives who had managed to flee participating in the same rescue mission as guides.

The brave men left at 6pm and circled around Habyarimana forces and made a safe corridor for people to avoid being hacked to death. 

They successfully brought the Bagogwe who were waiting for their death. When they arrived at Mugali they knocked on one door and the man who opened told them that they are on their side.

RPA soldiers opened a safe corridor and 300 Bagogwe were brought to Bisate and arrived around 6am, 18 February 1993.

Following the rescue mission, angry government soldiers shelled bombs on the areas that the refugees had camped but the latter had been briefed and told that they were not in a safe zone, they were evacuated and escorted to Butaro which was safer.

Chantal Kayitesi would later give several testimonies about the Bagogwe Massacres on Muhabura Radio and now lives in Musanze City.

In Butaro, the rescued Bagogwe started a new life which included farming alongside RPA soldiers.

On 7 April 1994, Bagogwe rescued at Mugali in 1993 were told to gather in Butaro and were told that Habyarimana was dead and the Tutsi are being killed, which meant that the RPA soldiers had to move to Kigali to rescue them.

Chantal and others were told to make quick preparations and move to Umutara which was safer than Butaro. Trucks were mobilised and they were taken to Umutara while the soldiers marched to Kigali on foot to stop the unfolding Genocide against the Tutsi.

In July 1994, Chantal left Umutara and came back to her home area to start a new life. Bagogwe who were rescued at Mugali live in different villages in former Kinigi and Mukingo provinces.

Chantal now wants someone to help her write a book about her journey with Inkotanyi soldiers in the zone known as “Igihugu mu kindi” which means RPA zones before April 1994.

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