This is yet another series of the 1990-1994 Liberation War by the Rwanda Patriotic Front/Army (RPF/A) that liberated the country and ended the Genocide against the Tutsi.
In this segment, Capt (Rtd) Logan Ndahiro, who was part of the four-year liberation struggle, takes us through the heavy shelling that the RPA forces suffered at the hands of the French troops who fought alongside the then government forces (Ex-FAR).
With the fall of Mulindi, the RPA forces extended the captured territory from the original 'Agasentimita' that stretched from the now Tabagwe, Karama and Kiyombe sectors of the present day Nyagatare District to Mukarange, Mulindi, Ngondore and Manyagiro in Gicumbi district, then Kivuye up to Butaro in now Burera District.
Using the current administrative boundaries, this means that the captured territory stretched to the current districts of Nyagatare, Gicumbi and Burera - a stretch of roughly 200kms with enough rear guard free of enemy forces.
After the capture of Mulindi, RPA forces that were on the right flank of the Gatuna-Byumba Road (facing Byumba) moved towards Kivuye and Butaro, clearing up enemy defences along the way; while those on the left flank, on Mulindi side, moved towards Kiyombe and Karama sectors to link up with the forces that had been left behind to guard the 'Agasentimita'.
I was attached to the operational headquarters at Mulindi. The Byumba sector commanders used to have operational meetings at Mulindi and the Operational Commanding Officer would visit troops in the surrounding areas that included Mukarange, where Delta and Oscar mobile forces had established their defenses, the Ngondore roadblock and those in Manyagiro, Bungwe and Kivuye areas controlled by Alpha Mobile Force.
It was during one of these meetings taking place at Delta Mobile Force headquarters at Mukarange that, at around 5 pm, the enemy started shelling our position.
This shelling, the first of its kind in terms of intensity and the heaviest we had ever encountered so far,was executed by the French army that fought alongside the then government forces, the Ex-Far. The bombardment was so intense, so targeted that every one of us, including our commanders was thrown into panic.
The shelling caught us by surprise and the meeting was brought to an inconclusive and sudden halt. The shelling targeted our combatants’ trenches/handakis.
As there was no cover to go to, some of us who were in the meeting, thus not in trenches, found ourselves prone to the shells shrapnel.
Under such circumstances, the only protection for a soldier is to lay on ground to avoid these bombs broken up pieces hitting you, unless of course the bomb itself falls directly on you. I personally lay down during the 30 or so minutes of that targeted shelling and luckily survived that ordeal.
One of the unexploded shells but still hot penetrated one of our combatants' trench and caused him bodily burns. This young man rushed out of his trench at a speed we could not fathom.
We came to realise it later on when the shelling stopped after one hour of agonising panic. He had sustained burns from the hot unexploded shell that penetrated and found him in his trench.
All Senior Officers present wondered what type of medium range artillery had been used in this shelling. A hot argument followed as to what type of long range artillery piece was used. Some saying it was katyusha (107 mm), others saying it was (120 mm) mortars, some saying it was (122mm) Howitzer while others said it was by 122 mm guns fired by tanks.
Later on, we learnt that it was 105 mm medium range artillery piece operated in batteries by the French as indicated by its catalogue.
We later nicknamed this medium-range artillery ‘’dimbahasi” due to its impact on explosion that caused earth tremors.
Rumour had it that the artillery used, because of its precision was using radars for proper targeting. If this shelling had happened where our soldiers had no handakis/trenches, we would have had so many losses and casualties.
But as it turned out, apart from the boy who had burns, we did not have any other casualties and we too, who had come for the meeting went back unharmed.
During the French army shelling, the Ex-Far was commanded by Col. Kabiligi.
Immediately after this shelling that evening, the Ex-Far advanced and attacked Alpha Mobile Force that was on the right flank of Delta Mobile Force but was quickly repulsed with many causalities on the enemy side.
The next day, in early morning hours, this intensive shelling again targeted Delta Mobile Force, and swiftly followed by an enemy attack. Delta mobile force had been prepared for this eminent attack.
As the enemy advanced, they found our combatants ready for them and within fifty metres; our combatants started firing from their trenches catching the enemy off guard.
The enemy had been fed on lies that no more ‘’utunyenzi’’ (cockroaches) could still be alive in that area after such heavy targeted shelling.
That miscalculation caused the enemy heavy losses as they carelessly advanced thinking there were no more obstacles. The battle only lasted one hour with over 50 enemy dead with many causality while others were captured alive and a lot of weapons collected.
Our entrenched combatants suffered minimal loss as they jovially checked the area after the battle.
After this battle, the French commander insulted Col. Kabiligi by calling him 'an imbecile.' This heavy reprimand was due to the fact that Col. Kabiligi had lied to the French commander that going by the intensity of the shelling that morning, there would be no more RPA forces still alive.
We were, at times, capable of eavesdropping the enemy’s internal communication and therefore able to pick up a lot of facts.
The commander of the French forces told Col. Kabiligi in French;“Tu m’avais promis qu’il n’y a plus d’Inkotanyi qui vivent après notre bombardement et pourtant voilà le grand nombre des morts et des blessés. Vous êtes imbecile”.
As the movement of RPA troops east – westward was happening, there were mop up operations of the remnant pockets of the enemy forces to ensure the captured territory is firmly in our hands.
Yankee, Charlie, Mike and Kilo battalions moved towards Bungwe, Kivuye up to Butaro, in current Burera district while Bravo, 21st, 23rd and Alpha battalions moved eastwards from Mulindi to Kiyombe and settled in areas of Cyondo, Karama, Muhambo and Shabana where Sierra Mobile Force was in control, thus linking up with all the 'Agasentimita' mobile forces.
Delta and Oscar Mobile forces remained in Mukarange while 17th Battalion remained at Ngondore roadblock (Gatuna-Byumba road). We arrived in Cyondo in early July of 1992.
It was after the capture of this huge territory from the weakened enemy and the settlement of the RPF’s two Organs at Mulindi that the Habyarimana government started yelling for a cease fire that eventually evolved into the Arusha Peace Talks.
To be continued....