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The controversial exit

BY Bonny Rwiyamilira

A cloud of allegations is leading Rwanda to renege on earlier commitments to peacekeeping

The chorus of denunciations over a leaked United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCR) report that accuses the Rwandan Army of genocide in the 1990s against Hutus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), intensified last week.

On Aug 31 Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said Rwandan soldiers and police in five different countries on UN peacekeeping missions will be withdrawn immediately if the report is published. The pullout will apparently start with the 3560 troops in Sudan.

Her comments only emboldened those already made on Sept 2 by Lt. Col. Jill Rutaremara, spokesperson for the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF), which claimed that withdrawal plans were already set and were only awaiting a political conclusion.

‘The Rwanda Defence Forces has finalised a contingency withdraw plan for its peacekeeprs deployed in Sudan,’ he said on Aug 1, 2008. ‘All logistical and personnel resources are in place. The pullout will take the shortest time possible [and] will apply to RDF peacekeepers serving under the United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).’

However, these words strongly disregard commitments that Rwandan President Paul Kagame has made in the past to the UN. In a press conference at Village Urugwiro on Sept 4, 2008 Kagame stressed that withdrawing Rwanda’s peacekeepers from Darfur, which were deployed for the first time in Aug 2004 as part of continental efforts to end years of violence that has claimed at least 200,000 people and displaced another 2.5 million since it broke out in February 2003, was not an option given the region’s humanitarian crisis. Kagame explained that despite recent media reports implying otherwise, Rwanda was not contemplating a Darfur pull€“out, but was instead working on way to better equip the peace force.

As of March 2008, there were more than 3,500 Rwandan soldiers deployed to the Darfur region of Sudan in support of the now joint United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) mission. Unlike some of the military forces that have supported UN and AU efforts, Rwanda’s soldiers have generally reported to peacekeeping commands.

‘We are working on equipping our troops because I think the mission and the purpose of the mission has great importance in as far as the lives of people who are affected in Darfur are concerned,’ said Kagame at the time. ‘We just wouldn’t start by abandoning them.’

According to Save Darfur Coalition (SDC), a global alliance of more than 190 faith-based, advocacy and human rights organizations, a Rwandan withdrawal from Darfur could have potentially devastating consequences.

‘What happened in Rwanda could happen in Darfur if UNAMID is weakened by the Rwandan troops withdrawal,’ said Amir Osman, SDC’s Senior Director, Policy and Government Relations. ‘Darfur and Sudan are at crossroads.’

SDC adds that pulling out will create the same vacuum that appeared after UN forces were ordered out during the 1994 genocide against Tutsis, leaving tens of thousands at the mercy of the government militia.

‘I believe Rwandans know that it means and how it feels to have civilians slaughtered in the streets,’ said Osman. ‘Rwandans had the support of fellow Africans and the international community during and after the genocide in 1994 and I wish they could think twice about their decision. Their support is needed for the troubled Sudan.’

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also weighed in on the issue, pleading with Rwanda to maintain its peacekeeping mission, noting the country’s contribution to two UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan.

‘Rwanda has been contributing on two peacekeeping missions in Sudan and I hope that this contribution will continue for the peace and security of the region,’ said the UN Secretary General. ‘Peace and security in Darfur and Sudan has very big implications for peace in the wider region.’

Lt. Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba, the commander UNAMID, the world’s biggest peacekeeping force, recently applauded the RDF’s contribution to serving humanity, saying that considering where the country came from in the past 15 years, it has registered great achievements in terms of peacekeeping.

However, despite the progress made by the force in restoring peace in Darfur, some militia groups still launch ambushes on the peacekeeper. The most recent claimed the life of one peacekeeper, injured two and resulted in a UNAMID pick up truck being hijacked.

RDF peacekeepers in Darfur have also introduced Umuganda in the areas where they are deployed. ‘Umuganda’ is the community work undertaken on the Saturday of the last week of every month in Rwanda. The Rwandan peacekeepers have also constructed fire-saving stoves for citizens, a feat which reduced on the risk of rape cases reported by civilians while searching for firewood in wild bushes.

Nevertheless tensions surrounding the Rwanda’s contribution to UNAMID remain high in the country as more and more indignant government officials come forward accusing the body of propagating malicious lies.

Major General Paul Rwarakabije who commanded the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) before surrendering in 2003, and Brig Gen. Jerome Ngendahimana, the militia spokesman during the same period, have both dismissed the report on a state television, as well as various countrywide radio programs earlier this month.

Since his repatriation to Rwanda, Maj. Rwarakabije has been integrated into Rwandan society and is currently a deputy head of the demobilization commission within the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (RDRC).

Rwarakabije said that the diffusion of refugees was not caused by the Rwandan forces, but instead by the FDLR, which had a strategy to scare the refugees.

‘We had an instruction manual which we could dispatch to our soldiers and supporters in camps to cause panic such that refugees would run away to anywhere they could,’ he said. ‘By doing so people realized that it was the Rwandan troops but it was not. It was the FDLR which carried such tactics to cause fear in the refugees. The investigators should revise the report and make more consultations because what is comprised in their report is totally false and misleading.’

‘You would find refugees dressed in both military and civilian clothing in camps that were supposedly to be attacked by the Rwandan troops,’ added Brig Jerome Ngendahimana, who is currently a deputy commander of the Reserve Force. ‘It was not possible to separate civilians from soldiers. I don’t think the investigators who wrote the report got factual information from civilian refugees who supposedly survived the Rwandan army attacks.’

Some legislators who survived the attacks in DR Congo have also defended RDF’s record.

Marie Rose Mureshyankwano, an MP in charge of women from Rutsiro, left Rwanda in 1994 and fled to the former Zaire, now DRC, through Bukavu. She lived in Kishusha refugee camp and worked in Adi-Kivu camp.

‘Interahamwe and French soldiers helped us to flee, telling us that the approaching RPA (now RDF) soldiers would kill us,’ she said.

In the process of repatriation during late 1995-1996, no Hutu civilians were murdered in the Adi-Kivu camps according to Mureshyankwano. ‘The United Nations report has documented lies and the reality is that many people died at Alfagili College due to cholera and I should go on record for saying this so as an MP but as a survivor,’ added Mureshyankwano.

Francoise Mukayisenga, an MP from SPR party, who fled the country when she was 24 years old through Gisenyi before going to Congo, has also spoken out of the report. She lived at Kibumba refugee camp where many people died of hunger while others were killed by Interahamwe.

‘I have totally failed to understand the UN accusations,’ said Mukayisenga. ‘If genocidaires, as the report alleges were killed then I wouldn’t be alive because I was in the same camp which inhabited them.’

Marie Jose Twizeyeyezu, an MP in charge of women from Nyabihu, also echoed in her compatriots statements saying that no civilian death reports were heard at the different camps were she lived. ‘I lived at Biyanse, Kayindo or Rumangabo camps. I did not see or hear of people who were killed by the RPA troops.’

The leaked UN report, which also names the Burundi, Uganda, Angola, and Zimbabwe armies of being complacent of minerals plundering in the DRC, is now scheduled to be published on Oct 1 instead of early Septemeber.

‘Following requests, we have decided to give concerned states a further month to comment on the draft and I have offered to publish any comments alongside the report itself on 1 October, if they so wish,’ U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.

Her spokesman Rupert Colville declined to say whether Rwanda was among the states seeking to comment on the report. The draft of the report covers some 600 serious crimes committed by various forces in the former Zaire during the period 1993-2003.

However, this is not the first time that Rwanda has threatened to withdrawal its forces from Darfur. A similar withdrawal threat was made by the Rwandan government in 2008 for its troops in Darfur over the indictment by a Spanish Investigative Judge Andreu Merelles of UNAMID deputy commander Karake Karenzi along with 39 other Rwandan officers last February for war crimes including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and terrorism, perpetrated over a period of 12 years, from 1990 to 2002, against the civilian population, and primarily against members of the Hutu ethnic group.

While the investigations were initially based on complaints from families of nine Spaniards who were killed, harmed or disappeared during the period at issue, the indictment was subsequently expanded to include crimes committed against Rwandan and Congolese victims, based on the universal jurisdiction doctrine.

The indictment ruled out the prosecution of Paul Kagame, arguing that he may not be prosecuted as long as he holds the position of President of Rwanda. The UN had asked Rwanda to nominate another general whose term was about to expire but under U.S. pressure his mandate was renewed.

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