MUSANZE — Ex-combatants undergoing rehabilitation and reintegration course before they return to civilian life, have said the commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi should be observed by all Rwandans. They said that this is for the purposes of forging ahead with rebuilding the country as the Genocide affected the entire nation.
The former rebels made the remarks in an interview with The New Times, at the Mutobo Demobilisation and Reintegration Centre, in Musanze District. The centre houses about 458 former elements of the rebel group, Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
When we arrived at the centre at about 11.am, the former rebels were in at camp. Information from the centre leaders indicated that those who were not in the camp had been given a short break after completing phase one of the orientation course. Those who had not gone had just chosen to stay.
The former rebels either surrendered or were captured during the recent joint Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)-Rwanda military operation against FDLR rebels dubbed ‘Umoja Wetu’.
Those who were present were found mostly located with in their residential quarters. It took a simple whistle to draw them together.
We randomly picked the former rebels to get a first hand account about their thinking with respect to the Genocide commemoration.
We were also keen to ascertain their feelings on equally sensitive topics that come along with the commemoration, such as Genocide denial, trivialisation, and the role of Gacaca courts.
In the interview, the former rebels seemed to have had a complete change of heart. They lashed out at those who deny and trivialise the Genocide, saying such people are self seekers.
In separate interviews, they concurred that the genocide was real and the perpetrator’s wish was to exterminate in whole members of the Tutsi ethnic group.
It is the first time that most of these former rebels join the rest of other Rwandans to commemorate the Genocide now on its 15th year having fled the country immediately after the genocide.
“The Genocide against the Tutsi was real and there was nothing like double genocide as some people claim. These people (genocide victims) did not die in stone quarries, they were killed in a planed move and the killers wanted to exterminate in whole members of the Tutsi ethnic group,” said Vedaste Ndikubwimana, 41.
Vedaste served as a soldier of the former Rwanda army (Ex-FAR) which formed part of the core institution which planned and carried out the Genocide.
Vedaste returned to Rwanda on February 10th 2009. He had been living in Matongo in North Kivu Province of the DRC where he was serving in the FDLR’s Sabena Battalion. He joined the rebel movement in 1997 and was serving in the Mobile Hospital contingent.
“Everybody should remember the victims during the commemoration week because the Genocide left a heavy toll on the entire nation,” he added.
The former rebels praised Gacaca courts for among other things dispensing justice while seeking to foster unity and reconciliation.
Ndukubwimana noted that Gacaca courts have been a success in post Genocide Rwanda because they base their judgements on testimonies from people who were present at the time.
“I went to my home area in Huye to be surprised that the Gacaca judges were selected from among local people, so there is nobody who can be denied justice. Gacaca was well planned. It has helped a lot to expedite trials. Many people who could not be tried in the mainstream courts have even been set free by Gacaca courts. Due to the backlog of Genocide cases, without this form of home grown justice system, some suspects would have grown old in prisons before facing trial,” he pointed out.
He added that even if one was convicted of Genocide charges, those charged had a right to appeal against the verdict and hence there is fair justice entrenched in the system.
Laurent Dusabimana, 62, hails from Gisagara in the Southern Province. He joined the Ex-FAR in 1969 and served as a Non-Commissioned Officer.
He fled the country with other members of the former army after suffering a crashing defeat at the hands of the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) who stopped the Genocide.
Laurent has, since the Genocide, been a rebel bent on coming back to overthrow the government from their bases in the Kivu regions of the DRC.
Ever since he joined the FDLR rebel outfit, over a decade ago, he held the rank of corporal within the various units of the rebel group.
Dusabimana has served for 40 years as a soldier, 15 as an FDLR operative. He says he was on the FDLR High Command Battalion.
As an EX-FAR, Dusabimana served in different army units which were deployed in different areas at different times, where he was engaged in direct fighting against the RPA from 1990 until the time the Ex-FAR suffered its defeat. He admits that he witnessed the killing of the Tutsi but denies having killed an innocent civilian.
“In 1994, I was directly engaged on the war front, we moved from one area to another depending on the security situation at the time before finally fleeing after being defeated,”he recalls.
Having spent a better part of his life as a soldier in the army accused of Genocide and later on as rebel army bent on finishing off the job they had not quite finished, age has caught up with Dusabimana.
Spending 15 years in the jungles of the Kivus meant that upon his return in February 2009, he finds the current Rwandan society quite different from the one he left in 1994. He admits that he wants to unite with his family as he plans to start a new life.
Like the rest of the ex-rebels, Dusabimana has undergone a complete metamorphosis. The word genocidaire seems a label he does not want to be associated with.
“The Genocide against the Tutsi was real and the effects are visible,” he notes. He says he regrets the time he wasted in the DRC jungles trying to fight a war which “he gained nothing.”
Deniers are doomed
“Those who deny that there was genocide in Rwanda have their own selfish interests. If I had a chance to meet my former commanders, I would tell them to give up fighting and return home’” the elderly man says.
Didace Niringiyimana, from Bugesera District, says when he visited their home shortly after returning to Rwanda, many people turned up to welcome him yet he had arrived at night. This, he said, is a sign that Rwandans have changed their ways of thinking.
“Yesterday (Tuesday) I attended commemoration discussions for the first time and I learnt a lot. I had a close encounter since my return in February on how we can forge unity’” he said, adding that he was not afraid of returning home as he had no cases of Genocide to answer.
Niringiyimana said Genocide perpetrators should genuinely ask for forgiveness in order to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation.
During this mourning week, Mutobo centre leaders said the returnees attend discussions about the genocide everyday at nearby cell units in Busogo Sector.
According to Jerubaal Kairanga, the welfare officer at the Mutobo Demobilisation Centre, on arrival, the returnees are screened to establish those who have been combatants and are retained for a six months training while the rest, in this case children and women, are sent back to their families.
Part of the reorientation given to ex-combatants, are lessons on Rwanda’s current developments, economic development activities and an insight into the refugee problem. Attendees are also offered self help projects development courses and income-generating activities as well as courses on the Genocide and its ideology.
After the Genocide in 1994, members of EX-FAR, fled along with thousands of Rwandan refugees into the DRC.