Maj. Gen. Paul Rwarakabije, a commissioner in the Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission (RDRC), has slammed the UN for its recently leaked report which alleged that Rwandan forces must have committed human rights violations in Congo in 1996. Rwarakabije was a commander of the rebel force ex-FAR , which was fighting the Rwanda Patriotic Army(RPA) units during the time the crimes are alleged to have been committed. In this interview conducted by James Karuhanga the general warns Rwandans to take no heed of what he believes are ‘people or organisations’ bent on disrupting Rwanda’s unity and reconciliation drive. Excerpts:
What is your opinion on this recent UN report?
Much as I have not exhaustively read the report all I can question at this juncture is the credibility of the source of this information. I ask this question as I happened to be with the refugees and the ex-FAR soldiers who fled Congo. I was a commander of one of the Ex-FAR units. Having been on the ground I must add that what is being alleged to have happened is a fabrication.
As one of the Ex-FAR commanders how was the situation at your high command level as events unfolded after July 1994?
Gen. Augustin Bizimungu was our overall commander even though I was attached to the ‘gendarmerie nationale’. Bizimungu called a meeting that was held at a place called ‘k’umukamira’, in the second week of July 1994.The meeting resolved that the war effort by government forces of the time was lost and that the only feasible option was to flee the country.
However, we had to do all that was possible so that all the people who were in the country could get out – the objective was to render the country entirely empty.
We told people that, ‘whoever stays back, the Inkotanyi(RPF) forces will kill them.’ We said, ‘you know their cruelty.’ And that propaganda continued...but that was not all. There was another objective that had been thought about...
What other objective was there?
Fleeing meant that there was a need to make it possible for a humanitarian catastrophe to arise. We needed to create that situation – a humanitarian catastrophe that could compel the international community to be alarmed and say ‘ah! Truly, these people [refugees] are in difficulty and need’... I must add that this planned humanitarian catastrophe was meant to cover the genocide that had been unleashed. That propaganda really worked.
Tell us about situation within the camps
The camps were run just in the same way government worked while we were back home in Rwanda. The administration machinery was intact. The camps had the same ex-FAR army and political leaders. They were just ‘lifted’ and relocated into Congo and settled into the camps. The camps had been prepared... for example Mugunga [camp] which I passed through, in North Kivu ... there was also Kibumba, Katale, and later, Kayindo. Those camps were known. There were even messengers who had been sent in to check out those camps...
Which camp do you know better? Where did you live or operate from?
I lived in Katale. The soldiers I led were in the camps of Katale, Kayindo, and Kibumba, but this didn’t mean that I could not reach Mugunga as well because my bosses in the army were based there [Mugunga]. Now, about how people lived in the camps. Like I told you, the same administrators who had been in charge in Rwanda – the bourgmestres’, the préfets, and others, were the same who ruled over the camps. People were settled just as it was back in Rwanda... And then, even the army, even though soldiers had then scattered, they later reorganised and were put in charge of security in the camps. The soldiers were living with the refugees in the camps. That being the case aid organisations were giving support to everybody without discrimination.
But were the aid organisations aware of this?
They knew it...you know, we were all dressed like civilians, but those international aid organisations knew it. They knew the situation in the camps...
...They just said ‘we see that people are all the same and all can be assisted together and it is not causing any problem.’
What do you mainly commit to memory about this whole scenario?
Looking back I must say that the organisation and physical set up of refugee camps was the responsibility of the UN. By choosing to locate the camps just a short distance from the common border while the law is clear that refugee camps have to be set up at least 150 kilometres from the border for the purposes of averting future conflicts, this shortcoming to me confirms the failures by the UN. That being the case you can now interpret in your on view what this error by the UN meant.
If we could just go back to the report. What do you think could have been the basis by the UN for writing this report?
Given the manner in which I saw things at the camps in terms of organizational capabilities and decisions by the UN, it seems to me that, by coming up with such reports, the UN is desperately trying to conceal what they were not able to put right. The UN’s intention seems to suggest that by even make up such reports, they are trying to hoodwink those questioning it into looking at the other way.
The leaking of the report came just when other reports revealed that in the region of Walikale, over 1500 women, and even children had been raped, with the UN force nearby...
Oh yes, with the UN nearby, and not doing anything at all. I also followed that because that is even a place [Walikale] that I know very well.
How could that happen?
The UN normally has troops. And it really has many soldiers there but for it to rescue people; I don’t really know if that is its first priority. It all boils down to the mandate given to the mission by the security council. That brings to the surface the entire FDLR problem. It is taking far too long to sort it out.
Surely, if they had the will, since I see that they have the capacity the problem ought to have been sorted out by now. Instead of wanting to solve problems, you find that they want to cause confusion.
Why do you think the UN would want to cover up...?
That is a question you can ask them directly.
Let me take you back to your time with the FDLR and when you crossed to the government side. Briefly, why did you cross over?
The first reason was the fatal losses we incurred in the year 2001. When we attacked ... the Rwandan soldiers captured very many of our troops...
They captured them, with the help of their parents, in collaboration with their families, they put them in camps in Mudende, and in Nkumba, and then, they sensitised them and resettled them...
How many of your troops were captured?
In this particular offensive over 1,700 troops were captured and resettled. This act really had a profound effect on me.
It was also very difficult for us when those who escaped being captured managed to find their way back. Managing them was difficult... they could ask us that ‘it seems that what you taught us is not true.’ Putting them back in line was a difficult problem...
Any other reasons why you finally abandoned the rebellion?
During that time we also had infiltrators into Rwanda who gave us intelligence on the situation back at home. The information they brought back to us, was that the population was really fed up with us!
And then there were some of the Rwandan leaders whom we started communicating with. We linked up on the phone and that is how it happened.
When, exactly, did you come back?
I arrived back home in 2003.It was tense as I was worried about my reception. However it was good. I was well received.
It is clear that I had to first explain my position. And people were asking very many questions such as ‘you lived there, you have been fighting, our children who you have left there, why have you left them? Why don’t you make efforts so that they also come back?’
At that time I moved around the country, if you remember, I even talked to many journalists ... The international ones were asking me ‘why have you returned? Have those in Rwanda promised you anything?’
I was not promised anything for my return...
Being integrated into the army greatly helped me since I could talk to the people I had lived and worked with ...it was easy for me to join and this helped me to encourage those I had left behind to come back.
Nothing is really ever perfect as such, but you know, you cannot say that everything is moving on perfectly well. I explained things and they would say ‘you arrived there and they gave you a job, but how about us, what will be our fate? There are people who returned and were tried and jailed ... what about appearing before Gacaca?’ I explained everything.
Being at the helm of the demobilization and reintegration commission, what are you doing to see that those still with the FDLR are brought back home?
The first thing we did was put up a communication strategy to pass the message that they should return. Another method we employ is the use of returnees. We organise talk shows, look into how they are faring back in their communities and, it encourages those who are still out there.
What would be your last word?
My message is, bearing in mind the path Rwandans have chosen in this country, where Genocide happened, we are trying to make sure that people live together again. However, while trying to work out this new path I must add that we need to be on the lookout for detractors.
Coming back to the timings of the leaked report. Why would the report be produced at this time? Surely it only shows that they don’t wish anything good for us. Having known the intention of such detractors Rwandans must be seen to be moving on. We must not be derailed from the path of unity.