The case of 32 suspects in the Rwanda National Congress(RNC) case has resumed at a military high court in Kigali with suspects pointing fingers to their leader retired Major Habibu Mudathiru as living evidence that they were forced to join illegal armed forces.
The case involving 32 suspects includes four (4) Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) low ranking officers, one retired Major Habibu and 28 other civilians who include Rwandan, Burundian, Ugandan nationals most of them accused of joining and working with a DR Congo based terror group (P5) that has attempted to destabilize Rwanda’s national security.
The suspects appeared before the Military High Court in Kanombe this morning, after two months of postponed trials of which the presiding judge said that the case trials had been put on a stand still due to coronavirus pandemic challenges but all trials will now proceed with in-depth hearing as planned.
Most of the suspects pleaded guilty to their involvement in illegal armed forces that operate in DRC and Burundi to destabilize national security in Rwanda but argued that they were conned to be part of the forces and had no prior consent.
The trial however took a twist when one civilian suspect, Patrick Nsanzimana, said that he went in Burundi in 2003 as a part time medic and one Burundian Eugene approached him for a potential pay job.
Contrary to his prosecution testimony which shows that Nsanzimana joined a medic battalion and quickly promoted to a high ranking soldier in the P5 forces and escorted to cross to DR Congo to perform duties, Nsanzimana said that he was not aware of being recruited as a P5 member but had hopes of job as a medic.
Nsanzimana said that since he was jobless he took up the offer but found himself being in a camp where the P5 forces were operating and tried to escape in vain.
Court judge asked to show evidence proving he didn’t consent to being part of the operations and Nsanzimana said that it is only Habibu who can testify that he had no prior consent.
“I joined December 2017, and on 28 March 2018 I tried to escape but failed and arrested in all three attempts. This can be proved by Mudathiru because I was punished at his parade, and I tried again to escape in August but was arrested after lots of gun fire and suffering broken finger and bones,” Nsanzimana said.
He revealed that Habibu is the person who was among the P5 officers who were in charge of the operations and he was aware of the attempted escapes.
His defense lawyer backed this argument saying that his client could have participated in the illegal forces but was tricked.
Maj. Habibu Mudathiru, who today refused to stand trial on grounds of lacking a defense lawyer and stayed put broken right leg hanging on a soft seat, couldn’t take in all the allegations and claims without clarification.
“I want to make it clear that Patrick was senior officer and all of them came in as group and were all asked if they know what they are joining and they said “Yes” – this means they knew what they were up to,” Mudathiru said.
On a personal level, Mudathiru said that he knows some hundreds of recruits who managed to escape after realizing what they had joined and so could the rest if they were not comfortable with the group.
“Some escapes may have been caught and brought back but though we were many officers in charge, I am aware Patrick (Nsanzimana) tried to escape twice to escape in vain but I was not the obstacle to their escaping because the bushes were wide open,” Mudathiru said.
For other suspects, Joseph Gatwere, a Ugandan and Jean Bosco Habyarimana, a Rwandan the defense lawyer told court that they should be presumed innocent basing on the conditions under which they were recruited without consent.
For example on Gatwere – the lawyer said, he was below 18 years and unaware of what he was going to do for the next two years he spent in the forces and this is basis for court to consider his innocence to the charges though he joined and managed to adopt to the situation.
“I plead guilty to have been part of the forces but didn’t do it willingly. I was told it was a painting job training and I left in a kidnap manner by soldiers on a truck. I tried to escape but since I only knew Luganda and while in Gatoyi (in Masisi in DRC) I failed to get money for transport until I was arrested and handed over to Rwanda,” said Gatwere, now 21 years.
Another set of three suspects also pleaded guilty to joining the P5 forces but also said they were tricked or lied to in different ways.
For example, Burundian national, Jean Minani said a Rwandan called Eric Nshimiyimana came from Bujumbura and told him he was going to sell eggs in Bujumbura and P5 officers including Maj. Habibu agreed to pay them in dollars.
“I joined the forces but was recruited unconsciously. I didn’t have any problem with Rwanda to come and fight the government but I was lied to and only came to realize that I had joined the army when it is too late to escape,” Minani said.
Contrary to his prosecution statement, Minani said he was welcomed by Habibu, given guns to start a war on Rwanda and promised a $150 per month and told that their group is sponsored by the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) in South Africa.
Habib denied the allegations of agreeing to pay the recruits but he was aware that such information was disseminated by the recruiters on ground.
“I am totally out of that business, they must have been lied to while being recruited,” Mudathiru said.
Among the RDF soldiers, it’s only Pvt Dieudonne Muhire who stood in the docket but sighted the challenges of not being able to stand trial allegedly because he has never received, seen or read his case file and charges.
However, Military prosecution stated that Muhire had received the file and his lawyer had spent time with him before appearing in court for trail.
A total of 10 suspects were heard. The hearing will continue on Wednesday, September 16.