KILAMBO, MASISI REGION – The Mai-Mai militia and Hunde tribesmen in DRC’s Masisi region are assisting the ongoing joint Rwanda-DRC military offensive in tracking down FDLR elements.
A Mai-Mai militia leader, Lt. Col Mahindule Muhima, told The New Times yesterday that they had welcomed the joint force because they were tired of atrocities committed by the FDLR (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda).
According to Muhima, the security threat posed by the FDLR to his people was a major concern and Mai-Mai’s raison d’etre.
“We are Congolese, we have seen the way how these FDLR are harming our people and that is why we organized ourselves to protect our people,” he said.
“The joint forces found us on the ground and told us their objective – doing away with FDLR, and we welcomed them. Right now, I have just come from Rukweti (an area nearby) and I have managed to bring two FDLR men and their wives,” Col. Muhima added.
The FDLR members, who were accompanied by five children, seemed very excited over having escaped from the grip of the FDLR hardliners back in the jungles.
Corporal Jean Baptiste Iramukunda Munyazikwiye from Mirador Unit and Corporal Elias Munanira from Sabena said their units had been devastated by the recent operations.
Munyazikwiye’s wife carried a three-day old baby, born in the jungle and her husband stressed that he had to wait for her before he planned to desert.
“Our fighters have been scattered,” he maintained, “I could not find a way to escape before because it was very difficult. I am a junior officer and we went by our seniors’ orders,” he revealed.
“There are many diehards who won’t give in easily. These are people who tell everyone that we will be killed when we give in to the Rwandan soldiers. They know what they did back in Rwanda and are very determined not to surrender. They will not allow anybody else to get free either,” his wife pointed out,” he said.
The Mai-Mai chief also stressed that FDLR leaders are determined to keep their dependents with them.
“Some are spreading false rumours that those who come out will be killed by the Rwandans and that is a problem,” he said. Others say that they cannot leave their money and property behind, but we cannot accept this.”
Minutes later, a local tribesman came running to report the presence of some FDLR rebels in the area. The worried man pointed out that they had just snatched an old woman’s banana juice and other food stuffs in the banana plantation nearby.
“The old woman ran away from them but they have taken the juice she was making. They cannot be far away,” the almost out of breath young man told Umoja Wetu soldiers camped nearby.
The soldiers immediately dispatched a unit to locate the group which locals say is a notorious trouble maker; raping and stealing food.
FDLR in disarray
One of the Rwandan commanders, Lt. Col. Sam Baguma, said in an interview that the Rwandan rebels have scattered in small groups and are running in all directions.
“We are now trying to get their proxies around. Their main headquarters was about five hours walking distance from here. We recently destroyed it,” he revealed. But he said the job was not done yet.
“They are waiting for the operations to cease and then come out and reorganize …in the meantime, many are deserting,” said Col. Baguma.
“What we are very sure of is that once we pull out of this place and it is not reoccupied by regular government forces, they will reorganize and come back. This area is important for them, it is where they get enough food from,” he noted. But the people are worried at the eventual pullout by the joint force.
“The people here are worried that we are about to leave. FDLR had warned them before they fled that once they cooperate with us, they will kill them. The Congolese government is looking for soldiers to take over once we leave these areas,” Baguma said.
The ever looming threat from the FDLR was echoed by residents who fear reprisal attacks.
“They have left, but we are worried they will come back when these soldiers leave. They said they will harm us if we cooperate with Congolese and Rwandan soldiers, said a market woman.
“They usually forced our men to carry their heavy loads and, now, we have peace. We implore the government of Congo to help establish peace. That is all we need here,” said the worried woman.
According to the plan, the joint operation which was mounted last month is expected to come to an end with this month and various people, including a group of Congolese traditional leaders have called for an extension of the operation.