Former members of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) militia have asked the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Congo (Monusco) and other stakeholders to step up their efforts and make sure the group is disarmed as soon as possible to end their continued holding of captives.
FDLR is a terrorist group that is holed up in the eastern swathes of DR Congo, where they have continued to hold captive civilian refugees since fleeing into the jungles 20 years ago after their genocidal machinery was defeated in Rwanda.
The former militiamen were speaking in Musanze on Tuesday during the ceremony to discharge 50 of them after they underwent a three-month rehabilitation and reintegration training that included entrepreneurship skills, adult literacy, and Rwanda history, among others.
Emmanuel Ntibiramira, 36, said he had been forced to join the militia group and whenever he wanted to repatriate with other militiamen, they were threatened with death.
He said all the theatrics that led the world to believe that the militia was willing to disarm was all about playing to the gallery and the FDLR, unless forcefully disarmed, would never surrender voluntarily.
Ntibiramira said even with the January 2 deadline given to the militia to voluntarily lay down arms under a regional security arrangement, FDLR is reluctant to do so, instead they are holding innocent people in camps in areas such as Kisangani.
A framework spearheaded by the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region, backed by the UN, gave the militia group that largely consists of people responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, until January 2 to disarm, else they face military offensive.
“FDLR is not willing to voluntarily lay down weapons, though they tend to show the world they are willing to disarm and stop fighting; with my experience with them I know they have no such intention,” said Ntibiramira.
“After mounting international pressure, FDLR hoodwinked the world that they were disarming and regrouping at the Kisangani camp. Actually, the people they took to the camp are civilians they have held captive and some aging militiamen. There is no single senior militiaman who stepped there,” he added.
Ntibiramira said more members of FDLR are not happy to stay in the group but they are under threat to be killed whenever they are caught escaping or suspected of trying to.
“Once, I mobilised my colleagues and convinced them to repatriate but I was later discovered and sentenced to death by senior militiamen, the sentence was commuted after we expressed remorse and sought forgiveness,” he said.
Women, children suffering
Some family members of FDLR militiamen, including children and women who are willing to repatriate but can’t get a way out are only suffering from various issues in the forest, he said.
“People are hungry, suffer from various diseases and have no shelter but they can’t repatriate because they are held hostage by FDLR senior commanders who are aware of their direct role in 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and fear justice,” Ntibiramira said.
Jean Damascene Ndinkabandi, another ex-militiaman, said he was lucky to be back home after decades of suffering in the Congo jungles with FDLR.
“It was not easy to escape, it took me a lot of efforts and I had reached a point where I was ready to die while attempting to flee. I am calling on Monusco and DR Congo to work together with other partners to end FDLR insurgency and free the thousands of civilians from their bondage,” he said.
Ex-combatants said they regretted the over 20 years they spent in jungles and committed their efforts to use the acquired entrepreneurship skills to build better lives for their families.
Jean Sayinzoga, the chairperson of the Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission, said the Government of Rwanda is working with Monusco and other partners to help more willing fighters repatriate.
He said they are planning to use various communication channels such as radios, telephone, video conference, among others, to show them that Rwanda is a peaceful and hospital country.
The issue of FDLR disarmament has been of concern to the United Nations, members of International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, among others.
In October, Martin Kobler, head of the Monusco, told UN Security Council that the lack of progress in the preferred voluntary disarmament and surrender of FDLR will mean “taking the fight to the jungle.”
“Taking this fight to the jungle will be long and difficult. It will result in many casualties. I, for one, do not want to see that. But it is up to the FDLR to prevent this scenario,” Kobler said.