At the beginning of 2014, Rwandan rebels, the FDLR, were approached by various African organisations and countries suggesting they would help mediate peace talks between them and the Rwandan government.
However, the promoters of mediated peace talks told the rebels that the deal would only be possible on condition; “if you accept to lay down arms.”
Mediators were able to secure a YES from the rebels, whose organisation is listed as dangerous terrorists.
Rebel commanders summoned their juniors both from North and South Kivu provinces. They discussed on how they would cheat Rwanda through mediated talks.
The rebels wanted to meet Rwandan officials on negotiation table and dupe them so that they could secure a political deal without really laying down their guns.
Gen. Victor Byiringiro a.k.a Iyamuremye Rumuri Gaston- the overall leader of FDLR sent an urgent message to all unit commanders. It said, “Bring together all units in your zones, choose only ten fighters from every unit and send them to a camp. That will be convincing enough for Rwanda to accept to talk to us.”
Sgt. Innocent Serukwavu 65, the oldest FDLR combatant then, was excited about the message. He desperately wanted to leave jungle life and resettle in Rwanda.
On December 28, 2014, Mohamed the commander of Bunyakiri camp where Serukwavu belonged, in Southern Kivu summoned members of his unit to communicate the order from Gen. Byiringiro.
“The old, weak and unfit had to join the camp. I definitely qualified for the camp and this revived my hope that time had come for me to repatriate,” Serukwavu told KT Press.
About 200 combatants were selected from various units and were sent to Walungu camp located 100km away from Bukavu the capital of South Kivu province.
Walungu camp is established at a compound of the UN stabilization mission in Congo, Monusco. Combatants at this camp arrived with their family members and are allocated four square meters for every tent.
Monusco heavily guards the compound and also established a voluntarily repatriation post.
At the camp, combatants receive good food supplies including; meat, water and firewood, but according to Serukwavu, these supplies are meant “to ensure there is no room for a combatant to have a contact with outside world.”
Outside this camp, the Congolese army FARDC mounted another guard, which made Serukwavu excitedly conclude that “link with FDLR is over. This camp will serve me an exit from the jungle.”
Little did he know that the camp was still directly attached to their commanders and was to become a recruitment field for FARDC, which run the camp despite the presence of Monusco.
One morning, DRC government called for a meeting with the FDLR combatants from the camp “to update them on the negotiations with Rwanda.”
The combatants formed a delegation of eight men to represent them at the meeting that was scheduled to take place in Bukavu.
On arrival in Bukavu, the combatants were instead arrested and sent to Kisangani where Serukwavu assumes, “they were integrated in FARDC.”
Kisangani in the DRC’s Province of Oriental also hosts another transit camp with a total 800 combatants and their relatives. It is reported that the host country has full control of the camp.
In a previous story, Lt. Col. Gerard Ntibibaza, former FDLR senior commander told KT Press that FARDC recruits from them.
Sgt. Manasseh Munyaneza, another former FDLR combatant from Walungu camp says that; “When you openly say that you want to repatriate peacefully, some colleagues reprimand you saying; how dare you when we haven’t yet accomplished the mission that brought us here.”
“This could cost your life.”
Some combatants also do not want to leave the jungle. They hope they will leave the jungle with heavy escorts and convoys to Rwanda.
Munyaneza said, the combatants in the camp believe that “government of Rwanda will end up negotiating with their commanders because the UN will put pressure on the country.”
However, Rwanda, from day one, jumped the ship. It has made it clear that there won’t be any deal with the people on the list of terrorists. All the country is doing is to receive and reintegrate any combatant who repatriates peacefully.
Currently, over 10,000 ex-combatants repatriated and were reintegrated in the community, according to Jean Sayinzoga, the coordinator of Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission.
Reintegration is not just letting them go back to family; it rather includes giving them startup funds, entrepreneurship trainings and basics on civic education.
Another challenge to the repatriation process, Munyaneza says, is the fake prophecies which have been a disguised propaganda for quite many years.
“Before the camp, we were always told that God has said he will let us know the right time to overthrow the government of Rwanda. I am surprised this belief is still trending there,” he said.
In the camp, three congregations including; the Catholics, Protestants and born again converts hold regular prayers and fasting crusades but still come up with such messages.
Difficult but possible repatriation
Both Munyaneza and Serukwavu agree that the camp created room for repatriation, but delays to register will keep strengthening campaigns against repatriation.
When they came up with an idea to leave the bad jungle life, they approached a Monusco officer on November 1, 2015, a Sunday evening.
One week later, on November 6, the Monusco officer told them they would leave the jungle the following day.
At 4:00 am the duo boarded a UN pick-up truck to the DRC border with Rwanda at Rusizi where they were received by reintegration officials.
Two months in demobilization camp now and they are regretting the time lost in the jungle.
“Rwanda is hosting international games today because world trusts them. Many tourists from across the world come for holidays on regular basis, because Rwanda is a nice and peaceful country,” Munyaneza says, who lived in the jungles for two decades thinking Rwanda had never moved an inch since they ran away in 1994.
“Children in the jungle will hold their fathers accountable for negating them free education their fellow Rwandans in the country are benefiting.”
For Serukwavu, “FDLR are countrymen who are dying in the jungle when Rwandans are prospering back home.”
While hundreds of rebels have voluntarily repatriated, MONUSCO has not stopped spending over a billion dollar annually, funds meant to facilitate the force to disarm and repatriate the rebels.