Ex-dissident Ntashamaje returns after 10-year exile

A former senior officer with the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) – now Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) – has abandoned subversive activities and returned home after what he called “three years of deep reflection on what I was involved in against my country.”
Gerald Ntashamaje during an interview with The New Times yesterday. John Mbanda.
Gerald Ntashamaje during an interview with The New Times yesterday. John Mbanda.

A former senior officer with the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) – now Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) – has abandoned subversive activities and returned home after what he called “three years of deep reflection on what I was involved in against my country.”

Gerald Ntashamaje, 54, who was, until his desertion from the army at the rank of Major in March 2000, jetted into the country on Tuesday, August 2, from Belgium  aboard an SN Brussels flight,  and was received by family members at Kigali International Airport.

In an interview with The New Times, last evening, Ntashamaje, who — on September 18, 2001 — was tried in absentia by a military court and subsequently sentenced to five years in prison and stripped of his military rank, talks of his regret of having ran away “without any genuine reason and later associating myself with activities and groups aimed at destabilizing my country”.

“I have learned a big lesson throughout the ten years I have been a refugee. I have nothing but regrets for my actions. I ran away when I had been entrusted to represent Rwanda at an international meeting. I apologize to all I wronged, including the President, the country and the institution I was working for,” said the father of one, whose wife and child remain in Belgium.

 Asked why he fled the country, Ntashamaje replied: “Up till now I can’t explain why…I have no explanation whatsoever”. The former senior officer deserted when he was on a government mission in Geneva, Switzerland to attend the 56th meeting of the Human Rights Commission.

At the time of his departure, Ntashamaje, a lawyer by profession who had joined the former RPA rebels in 1991, was a military judge and in charge of the legal department in the Ministry of Defence.

He said that when he decided not to return home, he flew from Geneva to Brussels and declared himself a refugee. But it was not long before he joined forces with other “negative elements”, including the now incarcerated Deo Mushayidi, to form a subversive group, Imbaga y’Inyabutatu.

Between 2005 and 2006, he said, he left Imbaga y’Inyabutatu and, together with the likes of Alphonse Furuma, Sixbert Musangamfura, Nkiko Nsengimana and Dismas Nsengiyaremye, formed another party, Alliance Démocratique Rwandaise (ADR-Isangano), which would later merge with two other parties to form FDU Inkingi.

Within a short time, Ntashamaje left ADR and linked up with other individuals in the region to form Rassemblement du Peuple. Rwandais (RPR), a group he led until he decided to denounce anti-Kigali schemes.

“When I was heading RPR, I frequented the region but we were weakened when several of our colleagues were later arrested in Uganda and deported to Rwanda,” he said.

Later, the former renegade officer said his group allied itself with an FDLR breakaway faction, RUD-Urunana, led by one Musare.

“I had a handful of about 30 soldiers who joined RUD-Urunana’s fighters in the Congolese jungles. Many have since defected, with probably around five of them still with RUD-Urunana rebels.

“It is around three years ago that I started to reflect, asking myself so many questions about my association with groups who harbor ethnic ideologies. I worked closely with most of these negative forces and I got to know that their intention was simply evil,” said Ntashamaje.

On his impressions upon arrival in Kigali, he said: “It was so emotional for me. I was so glad to be home. Kigali has changed in every aspect; I have never seen a cleaner city anywhere. Rwandans have reason to be proud”.

Asked about his plans and whether he was ready to serve his sentence, he noted: “I will only wait for directives from the authorities. I am ready to pay for my unwise actions”.

Ends

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