On December 11, 2013, around 9:00am, seven heavily armed soldiers in Congolese military fatigue crossed into Rwanda’s border area about 20km up north from the main border posts between the two countries.
Habumugisha Jean de Dieu and the colleague Kandinda were looking for wood in a nearby bush.
The Congolese soldiers put them at gunpoint and demanded for cows. The demand was made in Kiswahili.
The two Rwandan men had no cows and offered no alternative to their tormentors.
Habumugisha says they were kicked to the ground, sacked in the pockets. The soldiers took off with just Rwf 9,000 ($13).
The attack on the two men set a routine that has been the norm in the area since then.
Around 11:00am, on April 11, 2014, one farmer, Seti Byumvuhore was grazing 12 cows in Kanyesheja village that shares both sides of the boarder.
While grazing, soldiers showed up and arrested Byumvuhore and released later that evening and walked home empty handed.
His cows he had worked all his adult life to acquire had been taken.
A month later, May 15, at another nearby location, Congolese soldiers crossed over and took Mvuyekure Mathieu’s four cows.
But Mvuyekure was lucky. The cows were returned after paying Rwf 40,000 ($58) as ransom.
Congolese soldiers have repeatedly crossed into Rwanda, which Rwanda considers a “deliberate provocation”. But DR Congo says those are “accidents”.
This border area is volatile and porous and caused repeated clashes between the armies of the two countries.
In Rwanda, the area is Busasamana sector of Rubavu district in the Western Province.
On the DR Congo side, it is Buhumba groupement – a large expanse, covering tens of kilometers.
Ever since the first incursion by the Congolese in December 2013, at least 120 cows, and similar number of goats and sheep, were taken at gunpoint or stolen at night.
Local officials on the Rwandan side say more than 100 families have lost hundreds of animals, crops from their farms or money extorted from them by Congolese soldiers.
In many of the cases, the affected residents cross over to the Congo side to negotiate directly with the soldiers, often ending in cash payments before the animals are released.
This is for those who are lucky to find animals not slaughtered for meat or sold.
By April 2014, victims of this criminal activity had reported to have spent a total of Rwf 814 000 ($1,150) to recover their cows. From the 120 cows taken during that period, sixteen were never recovered.
Why the repeated incursions
Before the M23 rebels were defeated late in 2013, they had occupied the Buhumba region along with vast areas in eastern DR Congo.
The Congolese military has heavily deployed in this dry hilly area that is currently inhabited .
There are also hundreds of foreign troops, backed by constant surveillance by UN drones and aircraft.
However, sources told KTPress that Congolese soldiers are rarely paid, and rations do not come that often.
Rwandan residents of Busasamana sector, a lush green village with big plots of fertile farmland, sprawling with maize, climbing beans, potatoes and bananas, own cows, goats and sheep, are an ideal prey for the desperate soldiers.
Since July 2013, at least 20 stray Congolese soldiers have been arrested and then handed back to their government by Rwanda.
On January 19, 2014, Sergent Kabongo Muture was picked by Rwandan residents in Kivumu sector along the boarder.
He got drunk and fell on ground on the street with a fully loaded gun in hand.
He was picked and ten days later, Rwandan military officials handed him to the regional body charged with handling border disputes, the Extended Joint Mechanism of Verificafication (EJMV).
He was the ninth stray soldier found on the Rwandan soil. He told the verification delegation that he was looking for food and drinking water, and had no idea he had already crossed into Rwanda. All the soldiers cross into Rwanda without army boots.
The Congolese government has defended its men saying it is normal for anybody to “stray” across borders, but no explanation for their miserable life.
It is not only in Rubavu district bordering Congo’s North Kivu province where FARDC have found themselves inside Rwanda.
In early March, 2014, Corporal Ntungumuhigo Zakayo appeared in Gashonga sector in south west Rwanda, which neighbours Bukavu – Dr Congo’s border area, and capital of the South Kivu province.
Corporal Ntungumuhigo informed the EJMV he was fed up with military service and wanted to desert.
The most recent case again was on May 23, 2014. Corporal Bosongo Boyoma had been drinking at a trading center near Kibumba at the boarder, but failed to locate the position of his unit even when it was daytime.
He narrated to the regional monitors, who include his commanders that he was going to meet his wife in Birere, suburb of Goma town.
In a surprise plea, Corporal Boyoma went down on his knees asking not be sent back to DR Congo, fearing repercussion from his superiors.
He was handed back after the border monitoring team obtained assurances from Kinshasa that the soldier would not be severely punished. Corporal Bosongo went home two weeks later.
On February 10, 2014, Rwanda defense minister, Gen. James Kabarebe, told the parliamentary committee, that most of the stray soldiers are usually “hungry…drunk and end up losing their way” into Rwanda.
Despite years of claims by Dr Congo that Rwandan soldiers have also crossed into its territory, no Rwandan soldier has been arrested and presented before the EJMV.
Rwanda says ‘enough is enough’
The climax of repeated FARDC incursions into Rwanda was on the morning of June 11, 2014.
At 5:25am, fighting erupted as a Rwandan army unit ambushed about 30 Congolese soldiers who had crossed into Cyamabuye village of Rusura cell in Busasamana sector along the Goma boarder.
Five Congolese soldiers were killed. No casualties were reported on the Rwanda side. But Rwanda foreign affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo was furious.
“We urge the leadership of the DR Congo to embrace the logic of peace and end all attacks on the Rwandan territory,” she said, in a statement later the same day.
“These actions by DR Congo are jeopardising the region’s extensive efforts to ensure peace, stability and development for all our citizens.”
The area where the clashes occurred has two hills; Kanyesheja I and II. Congo’s information minister and government spokesman, Lambert Mende, was quoted saying that Rwandan soldiers attacked these hills which he claimed belong to DR Congo, then kidnapped a solder and executed him along with four others.
Yet, the previous day, June 10, residents in that area had paid Rwf152,000 ($230) to Congolese soldiers to get back their six cows.
Rwanda says when the 30 Congolese soldiers crossed again that morning, they may have come back to take more cows, expecting extra extortions from Rwandan farmers.
The incidents sparked off a bitter exchange between the two countries.
This happened at a backdrop of an unsolved case where, in August, DR Congo launched provocative military offensives against Rwanda.
Several mortars had been fired into Rwanda, one of which landed near a market, killing a mother instantly. Her five-month old baby she was carrying on the back survived.
The regional monitoring team, investigated the case and has never officially released the findings.
By Fred Mwasa and Sylidio Sebuharara