Kigali, Rwanda, April 22, 2003

How many lives in danger are necessary for a multinational force to be deployed?  Is it the color of the skin that makes the difference?”  Emma Bonino, European Union Humanitarian Affairs Commissioner, 1997.

We think Mrs. Bonino is a psychopath, obsessed with refugees.”  Laurent Desire Kabila.

kigali1.jpgBringing Hutus from DRC to Kigali.  Then what happens?

 The men were crying, the women held their breasts with both hands while the children peered out the window to get a look at their father’s homeland for the first time.  It was a highly emotional moment when the UN flight from Kananga landed in Kigali, bringing eleven ex-combatants and their families back to Rwanda after nine years of hiding in the Congolese forests. 

They are among the one million five hundred thousand Hutus who fled Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, when the victorious Tutsi led FPR took over the country.  They were afraid that they would be killed for the murder of up to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus.  They were right.

Their story is as atrocious as the genocide most of them took part in. If one third of the refugees returned to Rwanda within the two years following the genocide, another third of them were killed when the Rwandans and Laurent Desire Kabila’s forces marched on Kinshasa to overthrow Mobutu in 1996-97.  The European Union Humanitarian Affairs Commissioner, Emma Bonino, was outraged at the massacres.  She said in May 1997 that the Rwandan refugees “are abandoned to the mercy of an army without uniforms, without a flag, without laws, who hunt them down like wild game. Hunting season is open.”  Bonino qualified the wholesale slaughter of the Hutu refugees in the Congo as yet another “genocide.”.

Half a million people disappeared without a trace?  I believe nobody looked for them, or if they looked for them, they did not want to see.” (Bonino)  Given the figures, Laurent Desire Kabila killed more people in six months than the dictator Mobutu did in thirty years.  The Hutu refugees were running for their lives.

The hundreds of thousands who managed to survive fled to the forests where they remained a threat to the new Rwandan government.  They sided with Mobutu’s army for survival when Kabila’s men were “hunting” them.  Then, when Kabila fell out with his former masters in Rwanda and Uganda, the Hutus found themselves on the side of their recent butcher given that the Rwandans remained their biggest threat.  Their presence was the excuse Rwanda used for invading the mineral rich Kivu in the first place.

Apparently, Rwanda would now rather have them back in the country farming peacefully than over the border, an ever-present threat.  The Congolese want them out, among other reasons, so that the Rwandans no longer have an excuse to invade.  The UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC) has developed a plan to repatriate the refugees who step forward: DDRRR (Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reinsertion, and Reintegration).  The Rwandans have set up a government committee to ‘welcome them home’.  Tuesday’s batch is among the roughly 1300 ex-combatants, their wives and children who have returned so far.

Jean Sayinzoga is a tall man.  Wearing a brown tweed jacket, dress slacks and a dress shirt opened around the neck, the Chairman of the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (RDRC) shook each nervous hand.  He says, “They have nothing to fear. Those who have already returned live happily in the country.

According to Sayinzoga, the men will go to a camp for two month’s “training” while the women and children will go straight to the village and be given fifty thousand Rwandan francs worth of supplies to start their new lives.  UN personnel in Kigali say the reinsertion program is working well.  Does this mean the Rwandans have an extraordinary capacity to forgive and forget?  Maybe not.

The policemen who escorted me to the airport restaurant spoke English as a foreign language.  A sure sign that he had been a refugee who came to Rwanda from either Tanzania or Uganda after the Genocide. I told him that I had taught at the University of Butare.

Was that before or after the war?” he asked.  This is not an innocent question.  Although I taught under a program with the UNDP, if it had been before the war, I would have been serving the genocidal Hutu government.  After the war and I would have been serving the ‘new Rwanda’.

Another sign the war is ever present: when I tried to take pictures of the refugees’ return, the airport security got very hostile.  No pictures here!” they shouted in English.  The reason?  Perhaps the dozen brand-new Russian made MI-24 attack helicopters on the other side of the runway.

But the reception for the refugees was very friendly.  Sayinzoga says the Rwandans “have no business in the Congo.  The Congolese don’t want them. Their future is Rwanda, not in the Congo. 

I cannot say how well they are treated back in their villages of origin.  I have not been there to find out and I have learned not to trust reports from UN personnel, especially MilObs (UN Military Observers). Until an independent, credible source goes and reports on the process first hand, chances are only a trickle of refugees will be returning “home” for some time to come.

The other problem, as I explained in the Lubumbashi report last week, is the MilObs in the Congo whose job it is to safely escort the refugees from the forests to Kigali.  One of the ex-combatants on the plane had been badly mistreated by Congolese government soldiers after he had turned himself in.  He was covered with bruises from his beatings and showed the signs of having been tied and hanged in painful positions. He is the third case the doctor has diagnosed in Kananga in recent weeks. This gratuitous torture will not encourage more Rwandans to step forward for DDRRR.  Radio Okapi was asked not to report the case because it could discourage other refugees from stepping forward.  How can I give news, which encourages them to step forward if they risk being tortured?

Another question to be answered is why do the MilObs leave the refugees in the custody of the Congolese Army for days on end?  In Lubumbashi, is it because they are too busy having fun and unwilling to allow Rwandans to camp in their nice townhouse?  It has been pointed out to me by UN personnel, not to mention my own observations, that many MilObs are racists and most of the racists are not Caucasian-whites.  As I have previously reported, I have come across very few MilObs who take their job to heart (but there are some good men who are serious about their mission).  Most seem to be in it for the easy money.

As Mr. Sayinzoga took his fellow countrymen into the ‘loving care’ of the ‘new Rwanda’, he turned to me and said: “I pray you are never a refugee.  It turns your life to Hell”. Thanks for the advice.

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