By Jackson Mutabazi
An elderly Rwandan man that has just been released from a Ugandan prison has narrated how he learnt of FDLR rebel training camps in the bushes of Kisoro, southwestern Uganda.
Ntamukunzi Erasto, 68, a well-to-do farmer from Gasiza in Nyabihu District says he was abducted while on private business in Kisoro last month. Enduring a fate that so many Rwandans have suffered, Ugandan security agents that did not identify themselves abducted, and roughly hustled Ntamukunzi off to Kisoro’s police cells. They were accusing him of “spying for Rwanda”.
It was while he was in detention, he says, that he learnt of “FDLR activities in that part of Uganda.” FDLR, to those that may not know, is the anti-Rwanda rebel offshoot of the ex FAR and Interahamwe militias that were the vanguard perpetrators of the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Ntamukunzi narrates that it was last month, on Saturday, 20 when they abducted him as he was ‘just going about his own business’, he says. “I am an old man and I was wondering why they were doing such things to me,” said Ntamukunzi who looks sprightly despite his 68 years. “They were lifting me up by my trousers and accusing me of being a spy, but I told them I have never been one!
“They took me to the police ‘mabusu’, (custody) and I was there for the whole weekend, yet I had done nothing wrong! My travel pass was in order, and I also had my national identity card.”
While in the cells, on the evening of Sunday 21, Ntamukunzi says, a soldier of the UPDF, Uganda’s army, brought in two people. “One looked in his early thirties, and another one looked about 17.” Ntamukunzi narrates that in the “mabusu” there are some tough characters whose job is to manhandle, beat up, and harass new comers, taking away their money in case they have some.
They beat up the older guy, mostly, asking, “Where did you keep your money!”
The clobbered fellow replied, “The soldier took our money; we have no money at all!” After a few more hefty fisticuffs and kicks, the toughs stopped the “initiation ceremony” and asked the subdued, frightened new comers: “tell us then, why are you here?”
“We are here because we are going to join the FDLR army to fight Rwanda!” Ntamukunzi says when the man said that; it shocked him. He is one person that really hates war. He displays scars on his body that he says were inflicted during the war of insurgency in Northern Rwanda in the nineties.
When the two new comers in the cell said they were on a mission to join FDLR it made Ntamukunzi sit up and listen harder. What is this FDLR that these people are talking about?, he asked himself.
One of the toughs asked the older fellow, “Tell us more about this FDLR!”
“It is based in the forests around here,” the newcomer replied.
One of the other detainees asked him, “Is that the FDLR that is always fighting Rwanda?”
“Yes!” replied the fellow. He added: “I was in FDLR before, but when it looked like it was disorganized and beaten up – by the Rwandan forces – I decided to cross over into Uganda to look for a livelihood. But I heard that Uganda has helped to re-organize them, and they are looking for recruits! I heard that there is someone in Mbarara who is recruiting people, and that’s where I met this boy!”
It has extensively been reported in local media that Kayumba Nyamwasa’s RNC has a “chief recruiter” in Mbarara, western Uganda, called Pastor Deo Nyirigira. This “pastor” has been implicated by Rwandans whom he attempted to recruit for RNC, only to refuse. The pastor’s son, Felix Mwizerwa, is a commander of the RNC in South Kivu, DRC.
In recent times it has come to light that RNC has merged with FDLR, at the instructions of President Museveni of Uganda. In December last year, FDLR bigwigs LaForge Fils Bazeye, its chief publicist, and Theophile Abega, its head of intelligence, were arrested by DRC authorities at Bunagana.
They confessed, under questioning, that they were coming from a meeting in Kampala coordinated by Uganda’s State Minister for Regional Affairs Philemon Mateke. Mateke had, at the instructions of Museveni, convened a meeting between leaders of FDLR and RNC, “to better coordinate their activities” in the fight against Rwanda, according to Bazeye and Abega.
Going by what the two detainees were saying in the Kisoro police cells, FDLR has very good support in Mbarara.
Ntamukunzi says that the younger guy – the one that looks seventeen – said that in Mbarara, each person that agrees to join FDLR is given 60,000 Ugandan shillings, and then sent on his way.
The two men disclosed that the FDLR recruiter in Mbarara that gave them money is the same one that put them on a bus to Kisoro. He instructed them that upon reaching Kisoro, they were to find a motorcycle taxi driver in town, then they would call him (recruiter) to talk to the motorcycle driver. They narrated that when their bus arrived in Kisoro, they did as instructed.
After the motorcyclist talked to the recruiter, the man in Mbarara told him: “take those two men to Kibugu, next to the bush. When they reach there, they will know where to go!”
The plan, the two fellows explained, was to reach that place – Kibugu, next to the bush – where they would be received by another person who would take them to the FDLR camp in the bushes.
But at Kibugu, an unexpected problem happened. When the older guy got the phone out again to talk to a liaison guy that was supposed to be nearby, it was only to discover that the battery was dead. They were in big trouble! They said they decided to ask around, inquiring, “if there is a military detachment nearby”.
Their hope was that they would find soldiers to guide them, since their liaison person was to be a UPDF soldier. They narrate that a villager took them to a UPDF detachment. But the soldier who met them there instead took them to the jail, after relieving them of their money. He however also took their phone, which, it transpired, he went to charge.
The two said they had told the UPDF officer what it was they were doing, but since he could not be immediately sure, he took them to the jail first. The soldier, after charging their phone and going through the contacts, it seems realized they were saying the truth. The soldier came back in the morning and called the two, “Come out; let’s go!”
As for Ntamukunzi, the Ugandan authorities took him to Kisoro Prison instead, on Monday 22, April.
While in Kisoro Prison, Ntamukunzi learnt even more details about FDLR’s presence in the bushes outside Kisoro. “After a few days in Kisoro Prison, I was walking around in the crowded compound when I heard commotion. Two young men were in prison because they had cut each other with knives, were quarreling and almost at each other’s throats.
When I asked someone what kind of money could make these guys almost kill each other, I was told, “don’t you know people are making money transporting food to FDLR fighters over to the other bush; that army that is going to attack Rwanda soon!?” His informant continued: “Men carry beans, maize, Irish potatoes, and cartons of Chief Waragi to FDLR camps, and UPDF pays them good money!”
Ntamukunzi says he knew there and then that he could no longer doubt that FDLR was in Uganda!
His informant continued: “Transporting things to the FDLR camp begins at sunset. That is when men put loads on their heads or shoulders and enter the bush, escorted by a soldier with a gun. After they have delivered their loads, the same soldier escorts them back to the depot – from where they got the foodstuffs or spirits – and pays them their money.
“That work pays good money!”
Ntamukunzi got out of his illegal detention in Uganda only last week.