From the time of his arrest last year to March this year when he withdrew from the trial of 21 terror suspects, Paul Rusesabagina often attempted to distance himself from the military activities of the FLN (National Liberation Front), which carried out attacks in South-western Rwanda between 2018 and 2019.
The FLN is the armed wing of Rusesabagina’s political coalition, MRCD (Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change), which is accused of killing at least 9 people, critically injuring dozens of residents of Nyaruguru, Nyamagabe, Rusizi and Nyamasheke districts, and destroying or ransacking property worth millions.
Rusesabagina appeared in several videos declaring war against the Government of Rwanda and asserted in several media interviews that his FLN forces were in Nyungwe and “will not leave until the mission is accomplished”.
Despite the videos which remain online, including on Voice of America Kinyarwanda radio https://www.radiyoyacuvoa.com/a/4886849.html, Rusesabagina and his backers insists that he only played a ‘diplomatic and political role’.
However, evidence from files obtained by the National Public Prosecution Authority through judicial cooperation with Belgian counterparts who carried out a search of Rusesabagina’s Brussels home, shows how deeply he was involved in the planning, financing and execution of attacks on Rwanda.
Rusesabagina, as the ‘commander-in-chief’, got real-time day-to-day updates on the military activities of FLN.
One of the many WhatsApp messages seen by KT Press confirms that Rusesabagina conferred ranks and issued promotions within the FLN hierarchy.
In one message, Rusesabagina promoted Herman Nsengimana, also a suspect in the FLN trial, to a rank that would make him a suitable replacement of FLN spokesperson, Callixte Nsabinama, who had at the time been arrested and deported to Rwanda.
The chat, which has a timestamp of 18h25 on 1 May 2019, shows Rusesabagina discussing with Gen. Wilson Irategeka (“nitegekawil” with a Congolese number), which rank to give Nsengimana.
With Rusesabagina’s approval, they agreed to ‘remove one rank’ on the one Nsabimana had (Major), which would give Nsengimana the rank of ‘Captain’ before he is appointed spokesperson.
A communique dated 5 May 2019, signed by Rusesabagina, confirmed the appointment of Nsengimana and refuted an earlier statement which indicated that Capt. Nahimana Straton was the new spokesperson.
“Captain Herman Nsengimana comes with experience in regular military service and also worked closely with Major Callixte SANKARA,”
“We have entrusted him with these duties because we are confident that he has what it takes to fill the shoes of his predecessor,” Rusesabagina said, calling for full support of the new spokesperson and prayers for Nsabimana.
In the same statement, Rusesabagina said that they are doing everything in their power to ‘rescue’ Nsabimana, calling on the fighters not to be discouraged by the ‘abduction’ of the boisterous spokesperson, who was regularly heard on particularly BBC and VOA praising the feats of FLN fighters in Nyungwe Forest, and issuing warnings to the Rwandan government.
“We ought to know that in such a revolution, there must be sacrifices, and it is the blood of these sacrifices that gives us the resolve to speed up the battle,” Rusesabagina said.
Like war commanders, Rusesabagina received regular updates from Gen. Irategeka and Gen. Antoine Jeva Alexis, the FLN Operations Coordinator, on the progress of the fighting, new developments, needs and what to expect in the coming days.
Rusesabagina was also at the centre of managing the power struggle between Gen. Irategeka and Gen. Jeva, which stemmed from the need to control the money which came directly from Rusesabagina.
Gen. Jeva was bypassing his superior Gen. Irategeka, to talk to Rusesabagina directly and Irategeka was not amused. Knowing that he needed both men, Rusesabagina was trying to ensure that they would continue to work together.
In several chats and documents, Gen Jeva shared regular updates with Rusesabagina, particularly the situation inside DRC, which affected their operations.
In one of the chats dated 29 January 2019, Gen Jeva tells Rusesabagina that they faced a challenge of the Congolese government forces, FARDC, and other groups such as Mai Mai NDC and Nyatura, which are ‘pro-Kigali’.
“FARDC gave them ammunition. We engaged them, killed 12 and injured 17. On our side we lost 1 fighter and 4 were injured. The fighting in Faringa where we were based lasted 3 days,”
“When we run out of equipment, we left the area but they had surrounded the refugees, who we freed in the night. We continued to Buguri and fell into another ambush. There was intense fighting which lasted the whole day,” Gen. Jeva briefs Rusesabagina.
In the same text, he informs him that they lost 2 fighters while one was injured but FARDC lost 10 soldiers, including a Colonel, Major and two Captains. Jeva also told Rusesabagina that they landed in yet another ambush in Rushebere at night.
Rusesabagina was also briefed on the fighting in Masisi and Gatare where they killed 8 Congolese government soldiers. Jeva told Rusesabagina that they left their bases which had food farms they depended on and were hence facing shortages.
Rusesabagina assured the fighters that they were doing everything in their power to send them more support.