New information indicates the DR Congo is supplying arms to and actively behind the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) to launch a military attack on Rwanda. FDLR, in return, is supporting the Congolese army to fight against rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda.
Recent testimonies by FDLR captives who were recently captured by the Nkunda group showed that the Congolese government is supplying them with ammunition.
The captives, who were arrested by Nkunda troops, also dismissed reports that the arms Rwandan insurgents are currently using were acquired in 1998.
The New Times interviewed the captives a week ago without presence of any other party.
They freely agreed to be recorded and photographed.
One of them, Lieutenant Karekezi Bizimungu, 29, testified that President Joseph Kabila promised the FDLR government would keep its promise of assisting them attack Rwanda.
He said FDLR commander, General Mudacumura, keeps telling the rebels that they would soon attack Rwanda and take power by force.
“We believed it was possible given the morale in the bushes,” said Lt. Bizimungu.
He said FDLR has a network of spies that are regulary sent over to Rwanda.
He said: “Spies keep moving in and out of Rwanda but reports are kept secret, and low-profile soldiers such as me cannot understand what they come up with. But they give us morale that we will easily attack any time.”
Bizimungu joined the rebel group in 1994 while living in Mugunga refugee camp, about 30km from Goma, when FDLR was recruiting young boys from refugee camps to join the militia. He was 16 at the time.
With most of FDLR fighetrs accused of participating in the 1994 Genocide which resulted in the death of at least a million people, FDLR is also blamed for a series of grave atrocities in the eastern DRC, Uganda, Burundi and other violent attacks on Rwanda.
The rebel group collects taxes and has instituted a reign of terror on the Congolese population in areas in controlds.
Blacklisted as a terrorist group, FDLR is accused of violence, rape, robbery and murders of Congolese Tutsis, a reason that allegedly made Nkunda pick up arms to defend his kin.
Members of the FDLR spy network are registered as Congolese civilians and hold Congolese identity cards, the captives said.
The captives said FDLR is still recrurting fighters from Rwanda, including children. “They (intelligence agents) go to local authorities and register for cards. They cross the border into Rwanda and woo some locals to join FDLR,” Bizimungu said.
Some of those recruited are relatives of friends of FDLR rebels.
Corporal Nohel Rwabilinda, a 17-year-old child soldier who was smuggled into the Congolese jungles in 2003, was born from Kabeza in Remera, Kigali. He said he joined his father, Boniface Rwabilinda, in the bush whom he had last seen in 1994 when he was three years old.
“Someone picked me saying he was taking me to meet my father. We illegally crossed into Kivu and I found myself in the jungles.”
Gen. Nkunda’s intelligence agents monitor all FDLR activities. The two rebel groups spy on each other across the region.
Speaking recently from Nkunda’s base in Masisi territory 100km from Goma, Chief of Intelligence Major Freddy Kambare Matsongani said that his spy network recently arrested many FDLR agents after they entered Nkunda’s stronghold. “We have captured a lot of them and we know their movements.”
He said two FDLR battallions crossed Masisi territory into Rutsuru, on the Congolese side of Virunga National Park, on 12 September.
“They are always with Congolese soldiers escorting them. They crossed and we have evidence they were protected by government soldiers.”
A brigade commander of Nkunda said that when they are on the battle line, he can distinguish a Congolese soldier from an FDLR rebel.
“FDLR fight better than Congolese soldiers and are the ones sustaining the Congolese army.” “We (FDLR) help Kabila’s soldiers because they say they will help us get into Rwanda,” Bizimungu says.
Nkunda said he had handed over fifty FDLR to Monuc (UN Mission in Congo) in September, but that the UN peacekeepers released them later.
“We later came to find those captives on the war front in subsequent clashes,” he claimed.
However Monuc denies having received the captives.
The six captives who The New Times met were handed over to Monuc forces in Goma on September 13.
Corporal Jean de Dieu Niyonzima, 29, from Ruhengeri, was arrested this year in Masisi on a mission to spy on Nkunda and later cross over to Rwanda.
On September 9 three groups of FDLR soldiers and Congolese army (FARDC) were captured by Nkunda’s forces on a frontline.
All those captured admitted they were fighting against Nkunda under the command of Congolese government military commanders. “Sometimes it is a FARDC or our (FDLR) commander leading us,” Rwabilinda said.
The captured rebels also said that some FDLR rebels were registered for new Rwandan Identity Cards in the recent nationwide registration exercise.
“They used Congolese IDs when crossing but when they reached in Rwanda, they registered for the new IDs using the ones they have now,” said Rwabilinda.
Besides the FDLR and Congolese government soldiers, Nkunda forces are also fighting other Congolese militia groups in the troubled North Kivu province.
The conflict has seen thousands of children conscripted into the military.
Few of them can tell why they fight but say they are influenced by parents and relatives.
The 17-year-old Rwabilinda, who joined the FDLR when he was 13 ostensibly to meet his father, said he was left without choice when he failed to return home after he arrived in FDLR strongholds in North Kivu.
“First they tell you they don’t fight and that they are settled and cultivating. But when you get there and try to escape they kill you if you are caught. Everyday, they tell you they are fighting Tutsis and they will soon get hold of the power.”
Nkunda accuses Kinshasa, decries genocide
Nkunda has consistently accused the Congolese government of working with the FDLR, whom he says is trying to exterminate Congolese Tutsis in the same way they perpetrated the 1994 Genocide.
“Those who committed Genocide in Rwanda in 1994 are now in here (DRC); do you think we should leave them to go ahead and commit the same attrocities here?” the General asked.
Nkunda said the FDLR wants Congolese in the eastern Congo to follow their ideology, and that is what he is fighting against. In an interview, Nkunda accused Kinshasa of allying with the Rwandan negative forces. “We have evidence of the alliance of the Congolese government and FDLR, and we fear Tutsis in Congo will be exterminated.
There are signs of Genocide and we cannot keep quiet because already some Tutsis were killed here. People must be aware we cannot wait until it happens; I think we can prevent it,” he said. Nkunda said people should not confuse the Congolese Tutsis and Rwandan Tutsis.
“My cause is to protect targetted Congolese and not Rwandans. I am fighhting for the freedom of this Congolese region and its population. Nobody therefore should link me to any other interests.”
Nkunda’s message, however, is not believed by all. The Congolese government and some sections in the international community call him a criminal guilty of killing civilians in North Kivu and forcing thousands from their homes.
Efforts to bring both sides to a round table collapsed several weeks ago when Congolese forces attacked Nkunda’s troops.
Rwanda says a political solution was the best answer to the standoff between Kinshasa and Nkunda. Nkunda said he had captured a huge area of eastern Congo but that he has showed willingness to negotiate despite Kinshasa’s rejection for talks.
“This war was not our business. Guns cannot address problems,” he said, adding, “Sake (about 30km from Goma) was under our forces and we were moving into Goma. Monuc stopped us asking for talks, and we stopped and ignored all those advantages. But there is a problem with the government of (DR) Congo.”
Nkunda insists his intention is not to overthrow Joseph Kabila’s government, but to hold Kinshasa responsible for its failure to deal with the Rwandan Hutu rebels who fled to DRC after the 1994 Genocide.
“Kabila has created alliances with the FDLR to attack Congolese civilians, and our point is legitimate,” he said. “We cannot allow these FDLR to continue causing insecurity and killing innocent people.”
Meanwhile, President Kabila paid a surprise visit to Goma last week. His trip, according to observers did little to calm the raging tensions in the region.
He walked a few meters waving to the small crowd that had gathered near the airport, but some booed, highlighting the feeling by the majority of people in the area that a sustainable solution to the conflict was still missing.
A source said Kabila was probably briefed about the recent harassment of journalists in Sake by Congolese authorities.
The reporters had held a press conference with Nkunda in Masisi.