Military attachés visit shelled villages

Defence and military attachés from mainly Western countries, yesterday, visited the two Rubavu villages which were on Monday hit by mortar bombs allegedly from the neighbouring DR Congo.
A French officer measures the distance from the site where the bomb landed to the nearest DRC-Rwanda borderline yesterday. The New Times/ T. Kisambira.
A French officer measures the distance from the site where the bomb landed to the nearest DRC-Rwanda borderline yesterday. The New Times/ T. Kisambira.

Defence and military attachés from mainly Western countries, yesterday, visited the two Rubavu villages which were on Monday hit by mortar bombs allegedly from the neighbouring DR Congo.

The attachés included those from the US, Belgium, France, Germany and Tanzania.

The trip came a day after the UN Stabilisation Mission in the Congo (Monusco) denied that two mortar bombs from areas it controls together with the Congolese army, FARDC, had landed in Gasiza and Kageshi cells, Busasamana Sector in Rubavu District, assertions Rwanda said pose a threat to civilians.

The envoys were briefed by the Defence and Military Spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Joseph Nzabamwita, who said the bombs were fired by a FARDC commando brigade.

“We have information indicating that these bombs were shot by the FARDC commando brigade led by Colonel Mamadou (N’Dala Moustafa). The BM-21 was firing from Carriere in Mugunga, DR Congo,” he told the military attachés in the presence of journalists.

The BM-21‘combat launch vehicle’, commonly known as the Grad multiple  rocket launcher, has the capacity to shoot as far as 30km.

Eyewitnesses, some of whom narrowly survived the bombings, gave an account of what happened. In Gasiza Cell, Daria Nyirabigori, 80, survived after a mortar landed about 80 metres from her.

“It was in mid-afternoon and I was in my garden. I heard a heavy blast and I collapsed. I was woken up by people who came to see what had happened and that’s when I realised that a bomb had dropped nearby,” said Nyirabigori.

When it landed, the bomb dug a hole of about a metre deep. By the time The New Times visited the scene, fragments were still scattered around.

Mortar detail

Thercisse Niyonsaba, the coordinator of Gasiza Cell, said the incident occurred when he was at a nearby trading centre. “We immediately informed the army and rushed to the scene to see what had just happened,” he said.

Gen. Nzabamwita said the mortar was shot by a T-55 tank, located in Kanyarukinya, about nine kilometres from the scene where it landed.

A T-55 is a medium tank which has a fully tracked, five-road wheeled chassis. The T-55 long range shot can go up to 17km, according to Nzabamwita.

In Kageshi Cell, the bomb dropped 100 metres from the borderline but there was minimal impact since it landed on rocks. The damages on the rocks could visibly show that the bomb came from the direction of DR Congo.

A herdsman in the area, Theoneste Nsabimana, said he was nearby when the bomb hit the rocks, adding that it came from the direction of Mugunga.

“I lived in Mugunga as a refugee, and I know very well where it’s located. The bomb came from that direction,” Nsabimana said as he pointed with his hand in the direction of Mugunga.

Pinning weapons

Nzabamwita later told journalists that the weapons used belonged to FARDC but the mortars were fired from areas that are close to Monusco bases.

On Wednesday, members of the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism, a group of military monitors from the 11 member states of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region based in Goma, eastern DR Congo, inspected the scenes. They took shells and shrapnel from the site for ballistics test.

Speaking to this paper after the inspection on Wednesday, the deputy head of the regional monitoring team, Col. Leon Mahungu, said they intended to release their findings this week.

Rwanda described the incidents as “a provocative and deliberate act by FARDC and Monusco.”

Meanwhile, in New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned what he called gross violations of rights and international humanitarian law committed by the Congolese army.

These violations, he said, include mistreating M23 detainees and desecration of corpses of M23 combatants.

He called on Kinshasa to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The Congolese army, allegedly backed by the remnants of FDLR, the militia blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, is currently battling the M23 rebels.

Observers say the UN is embarrassed by the abuses since its peacekeeping mission is believed to be providing tactical and strategic support to FARDC in the ongoing clashes with the rebels.

The fighting, which erupted on Sunday, effectively ended a lull that had come with hopes of resumption of peace talks in Kampala, Uganda, between the warring parties.

A newly instituted 3000-strong UN brigade, with a more assertive mandate, is planning to confront M23 rebels, who say they will defend themselves.

Hundreds of more Congolese refugees crossed into Rwanda in the wake of the latest fighting. The country is home to more than 50,000 Congolese refugees.

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