MATEMBE, MASISI REGION - Civilian inhabitants of Matembe hills in the Eastern Congolese region of Masisi, fear for their lives should the joint Rwanda-DR Congo military forces that drove the FDLR out of the area leave their villages.
The military offensive code-named ‘Umoja Wetu’ recently chased elements of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) out of Matembe, over 300kilometres North-West of the regional capital Goma.
The joint force also burnt down the rebels’ 1st Division headquarters in the area, but their disappearance into the thick jungles waiting to come back when the forces leave the area is what frightens the residents.
“These people are scattered far into the bushes. Most of them have been heavily defeated by the soldiers, some are on the run, but they are waiting for the soldiers to leave and come back to harass us,” a sturdy old man from the village told The New Times.
Though the rebels were dislodged from their positions and forced to wander into the thick jungles of the country, traces of their long establishment have remained. Their crops like maize, cabbages, carrots, yams, potatoes and even large patches of marijuana can be seen at the scene.
“They will come back and surely we will be killed, all of us,” the old man added. He and other locals, mostly from the Hunde and Nyanga tribes, pointed out that they were worried about their fate once the joint forces leave their area.
“We are crying because when the Rwandan army goes back we will suffer very much... we suffer so much in this country of ours,” one of the village chiefs, Ramadhan Shenyongo said as he visited a camp of the joint forces.
“Some [FDLR rebels] have run away but we are very worried about what will happen to us once these soldiers leave, please save us from this misery,” he pleaded with the soldiers.
One commander in the joint forces, Major Bosco Kayinamura, said that the Masisi region is where the rebels get most of their food. It is so fertile that the soil does not necessitate any preparations for crop seeds to be sown.
“Just look at all these crops they left behind… once we leave they will just come back,” the commander said from the recently occupied Matembe area.
A lieutenant who did not reveal his identity said that the best way to protect civilians was to stay around and compel the rebels to surrender.
“If we maintained pressure on them, they would just continue to scatter, surrender more and the rest would even totally abandon Mudacumura (the rebels’ commander who is on the run),” he said.
The ‘Umoja Wetu’ operation which started last month to hunt down FDLR elements is expected to end this month, but various people, including a group of Congolese traditional leaders and the Parliament in Rwanda, have called for an extension of the operation.