The 8th February 1993 offensive by RPA forces

The ceasefire was by and large observed although some exchange of fire here and there was not so uncommon between RPA and Ex-Far. The stretch of the original Demilitarized Zone was so narrow that we used to exchange hot words with Ex-Far and at times exchange fire. The Demilitarized Zone, after the 8th February attack of 1993, was widened to about 15 km in width between the Ex-Far and the RPA.

This is another chronicle 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 (Retired) Logan Ndahiro, who was part of the Liberation Struggle, continues to delve into the ceasefire that was called by the Arusha Peace Talks and in particular, the persistent violation of the ceasefire by the Ex-Far.

This provocation led to a well-coordinated offensive by the RPA forces on February 8 1993, which repulsed the enemy, forcing them back to the negotiating table.

The ceasefire was by and large observed although some exchange of fire here and there was not so uncommon between RPA and Ex-Far. The stretch of the original Demilitarized Zone was so narrow that we used to exchange hot words with Ex-Far and at times exchange fire. The Demilitarized Zone, after the 8th February attack of 1993, was widened to about 15 km in width between the Ex-Far and the RPA.

The RPA had not, since the 1st of October 1990 ceased to fight. When this cease fire entered into force, sometime in July 1992, the forces enjoyed this lull in fighting and concentrated in body building exercises, among other activities as mentioned in the previous article.

This sudden cease fire had some repercussions on the combatants who were routinely used to fighting. The RPA officers and men suddenly became somehow redundant and had to adjust to the conditions of the cease fire.

After six months of cessation of fire from July 1992 to February 1993, the RPA was a well-organized, trained and politicized army. It had been organised into a new structure of fewer (8) and stronger self-reliant combined Mobile Forces. Each unit comprised of 8 companies (coys).

Under ordinary engagement circumstances, each unit could attack, reinforce and have rear-guard force on its own:

-The RPA fighters had political & military readiness;

-The units enjoyed cohesive and seasoned command

-The fighters (over ceasefire period) had gained stamina owing to more theory & practice

-RPA had improved both artillery capability and efficient communication system.

The above factors made the RPA capable of containing and defeating the enemy without doubt in any combat engagement.

It was during the Peace Talks negotiation, while at Arusha that genocide architect Theoneste Bagosora, on 20th January 1993 declared an apocalypse, literally meaning to massacre Tutsis. After this infamous declaration, indeed the Tutsis in Kibilira (western Rwanda) started being killed.

This act angered the RPF/RPA, the other arm of the Arusha Peace Talks. Both the Chairman of RPF and RPA’s Chairman of the High Command took this as an act of arrogance, contempt of the Peace Talks and inhumanity.

The Chairman of the High Command ordered for a punitive action in form of a sudden, lightening attack on the unsuspecting Ex-Far by crossing the Demilitarized Zone (buffer zone) and attacking them far behind their defenses. This order was for all mobile forces to swing into action and give the Ex-Far a bloody nose.

The objectives of the offensive were mainly the following:

-The government’s general intransigence vis-à-vis the on-going ARUSHA Peaceful Negotiations;

-To arrest the state inspired massacres that had locked the country and generally to awake the government forces on the seriousness of respect of human rights.

-To check on government forces provocations.

A combination of the above gave the RPA the reason and will to go on the offensive against the Ex-Far in the defence of people’s rights by defeating the forces that terrorized and massacred them.

As earlier mentioned, during this cease fire, the RPA combatants had built the strength and stamina, had had enough feeding and relaxation and were actually itching for a fight. When The Chairman of the High Command ordered for this incursion, all RPA combatants, rank and file were so excited about the impending attack.

The Chairman of the High Command ordered all mobile forces from Tabagwe to Butalo to send reconnaissance personnel to find out exit points in the Ex-Far extended formations forming the Demilitarized Zone. The aim of the attack was to infiltrate behind the Ex-Far defensive formations in the Demilitarized Zones undetected and attack them from behind.

The reconnaissance teams duly briefed the Chairman of the High Command who approved the attack. But due to his strategic and tactical foresight in combat operations, his control of all combat details, he ordered two mobile forces; namely 157th and 101st to be on standby to be deployed and give support to any other mobile force in need.

This indeed happened when 157 gave support to both 59 and Charlie mobile forces during the incursion while 101 mobile force gave support to Bravo and Alpha during these attacks.

The RPA troop movements started on 6th-7th February 1992. I was in Bravo Mobile force where 4 companies were detached from the rest and briefed on the objective of the attack. We were   based in Cyondo, in Kiyombe Sector of Nyagatare district and we were to cut off any Ex-Far supplies to their forces in the Demilitarized Zone and attack and rout them from the Demilitarized Zone and beyond.

Our 4 companies joined hands with other 4 companies from 7th Mobile force and on 8th February 1993, attacked the unsuspecting Ex-Far defences behind the Demilitarized Zone causing a lot of panic to those that were left behind.

All RPA companies had formed extended formations behind Ex-Far lines of about 20 Km in width. We had left some standby companies to attack those in the Demilitarized Zones who, on hearing gun fire behind them started deserting en mass. Those deserting fell into our hands and as one combatant described it later, it was ‘’wrestling with the enemy rather than fighting with guns’’.  We destroyed vehicles bringing in support to the Demilitarized Zone defences and charged plenty of weapons.

Bravo mobile force occupied Gatsibo and commune Bwisige (tactical headquarters and surrounding hills while 7th mobile force occupied Ngarama, Mimuli and Nyagahita ( its tactical H/Qtrs). The captured stretch was about 20 km from our original H/Qrts at Cyondo (Bravo) and Shabana (7th) respectively.

Alpha Mobile force had its headquarters at Kivuye. Troop movement started on 7th February 1993. They successfully penetrated the Demilitarized Zone stealthily and unnoticed and attacked all the defences behind the Demilitarized Zone.

Two companies were left, one to guard the H/Quarters and the other to attack the Ex-Far in the Demilitarized Zone. When the Ex-Far forces heard gun fire behind their defences, the company attacking them in the Demilitarized Zone did little to rout them.

Some Alpha companies went up to Base (a small town on Kigali-Musanze road), in present Rulindo district while others were in the vicinity of the present Inyange Girls School (Kigali-Musanze road) and at the Rulindo Cathedral.

Thus Alpha controlled Kivuye, Miyove, Kinihira Tumba, and Base. These companies had, along the way attacked and charged the Ex-Far defences so many weapons and ammunitions. The plan was to advance towards Shyorongi the next day in the hills overlooking Kigali but this was cut short as we shall see below. The captured stretch was more than 50 km.  Alpha’s tactical H/Qrts was at Tumba College.

Charlie Mobile Force had its H/Quarters at Butalo. During the attack, Charlie mobile force left behind one company to attack the Ex-Far defences in the Demiltarized Zone while the rest of the force moved past these defences, from Butalo, Kidaho, crossed Musanze - Cyanika road clearing all Ex-Far defences up to Kinigi, Kigombe (Musanze town) and Mukingo communes.

Charlie attacked Musanze town and overrun Nyamagumba and Mabona defences. It also cut off Musanze Rubavu road and controlled a stretch of about 40 km in width from Butalo. The tactical H/Quarts had been established at commune Kinigi. Many weapons and ammunitions were captured from the Ex-Far.

59th mobile force had its H/Qrts at Butaro. It successfully by passed the Demilitarized Zone undetected leaving behind 2 companies to attack Ex-Far in the Demilitarized Zone. Since the whole of Charlie was ahead in Musanze town, 59th gave rear guard to Charlie by cutting Cyanika Musanze road.

Then eventually this task was left to companies from 157 that had arrived to give support to both Charlie and 59. 157 companies maintained the Musanze-Cyanika road block as 59th  moved to Ntaruka on the left side of Cyanika Musanze road up to Kabuye, a high hill overlooking Nemba Hospital and Burera district H/Qrts and went on to link up with Alpha at Base and set up a road block on Kigali -Musanze road. 59th tactical H/Qrts was at Kabuye hill.

157 mobile force, apart from giving support to Charlie and 59, had left behind two companies at its H/Qrts which successfully attacked the Ex-Far in the Demilitarized Zone and chased them away.  21st mobile force attacked the Ex-Far and routed them from the Demilitarized Zone and occupied part of commune Kinyami and hills surrounding Byumba town while 101 mobile force, apart from giving support to Bravo and Alpha attacked the Ex-Far in the Demilitarized Zone but remained in its original H/Qrts.

A lot of weapons and ammunitions were captured and all mobile forces combatants were jubilant about their successful infiltration and routing Ex-Far defenses this far. This Jubilation was however short lived. We had started the attack on 8th February 1993 and on or about 15th -16th March 1993 we got an order from the Chairman of the High Command to withdraw immediately.

On 17th March 1993 all RPA forces withdrew en mass. All the forces went back to their original defenses before the attack. Late Savimbi, on hearing this news of our withdraw; wondered over BBC how a guerilla force can surrender its captured territory just like that? Some of us shared his argument although we had to withdraw anyway.

After our withdraw, one thing was clear, we had tested the strength of the Ex-Far and comparatively found out that we were capable of defeating him should such a chance arise, two we had captured a lot of weapons and ammunitions from the fleeing Ex-Far soldiers and from defenses attacked which augmented our arsenal, three we showed the Habyarimana regime and the likes of Bagosora that we are strong and capable to engage and defeat the Ex-Far in combat.

The Demilitarized Zone was enlarged to cover about 15 km in width, to minimize chances of protagonists exchanging fire again. The Wananchi found in the Militarized Zone had been under Ex-Far and were always wrongly arrested, tortured and incarcerated due to being suspected to be RPA collaborators.

The whole population under this expanded Militarized Zone turned to RPA for protection from the Ex-Far and was indeed happy. We offered all the support they needed including medical treatment and other essential domestic needs.

The Habyarimana government returned to the peace talks with anger and shame but had no choice apart from pursuing peace rather than war. The Arusha Peace Talks were signed on 4th August 1993.

To be continued....

The writer is a retired soldier


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