Exclusive- How DRC planned and executed recent attack on Rwanda
Last week on Wednesday, five Congolese soldiers were killed after skirmishes erupted on the Rwanda-DR Congo border- several kilometers from Rubavu District in Rwanda and Eastern DRC’s capital of Goma. But as News of Rwanda reports, the story of what happened hours before the sporadic shelling, has never been told until now.
At 5:15am (3:15GMT) on June 11, Rwandan soldiers based in Rusura cell, Busasamana sector in Rubavu District, began moving back to their positions after spending the night on Kanyesheja 2 hill. The soldiers have been doing that as a matter of routine to protect the border from any infiltrators. The harbours two hills; Kanyesheja 1 and 2 which are about 500m apart.
Behind Kanyesheja 1 hill is DR Congo while Kanyesheja 2 hill is located on the Rwandan side. On the DRC side, during the previous days, there had been a constant buildup of troops numbering in the dozens with heavy weapons, according to villagers on Rwanda side.
How the attack unfolded
On the fateful day, as routine when the night was ending, Rwandan soldiers begun pulling back to the posts deep inside Busasamama sector. In a matter of minutes, firing erupted from the DRC direction. The retreating soldiers realized that an enemy was behind them and had crossed more than 300m into Rwanda, reveals an account provided to the regional monitoring team.
“Rwandan soldiers knew the area so they were able to reorganize within minutes despite the sporadic firing from the enemy,” said the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) area commander in a narration to the Extended Joint Mechanism of Verificafication (EJVM)-a team which came to the scene later the same day.
Despite its arrival at the scene, however, the team had to leave prematurely as more firing broke out from the DRC side.
The morning attacks were followed by a second attempt by two FARDC platoons to deploy into Rwanda that resulted in further exchange of fire leaving four FARDC soldiers dead. When the attack from what the Rwandan commanders call “enemy” had been contained, RDF soldiers launched a massive sweep of the area. During the cordon and search exercise, they struck by 5 heavily armed soldiers in DRC army uniforms. Among those killed, was a soldier with DRC military identity named Hategekimana Baysiro (see photo of ID).
FDLR and the cows
Later in the day, villagers who had been hiding all morning in the surrounding bushes emerged and identified the soldier Hategekimana. It happens to be that several days before, cows had been stolen and taken across to DRC side. On 9th June, the villagers had crossed to DRC side and paid Rwf150, 000 (about $220) to Congolese soldiers to release their cows.
It has been discovered that these Congolese soldiers spoke Kinyarwanda language, used in Rwanda. Among these soldiers was Hategekimana Baysiro.
“It was a shock seeing his body among those we had paid money to bring back our cows,” said elderly Cleophas Kimonyo, a resident of the area.
The verification team was informed that Hategekimana is of Rwandan origin from Karongi District in Rwanda, more than 200km from the spot where he and four others were killed. The Rwandan government says Hategekimana was part of a large combined force of Congolese army and Rwandan FDLR rebels.
The FDLR rebels have been aided by Congolese army to move closer to Rwandan border. They are currently based at Kibumba, about 10km from Busasamana sector, according to intelligence sources. The sources adds that local residents have been seeing Kinyarwanda-speaking people roaming across from the DRC side of border.
In the past three months, Rwanda says the DRC has unilaterally closed its border with Rwanda, imposed visa fees despite regional and bilateral agreements and failed to honor their commitment to neutralise the FDLR militia operating in the DRC for the last twenty years.
These attacks come less than a year after a series of bombs were shelled on Rwandan territory by FARDC. This includes an attack in August 2013, where a bomb launched from DRC territory landed in a marketplace in Bugangari, killing Vestine Mukagasana before leaving her two-month old son seriously injured.
Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and government spokesperson, Louise Mushikiwabo warned the DRC government against any further hostilities. In a BBC interview on the same day, Minister Mushikiwabo said that she had spoken to her DRC counterpart- Raymond Raymond Tshibanda, telling him that they should stop their army from repeatedly attacking Rwandan territory.
“These actions by the DRC are jeopardising the region’s extensive efforts to ensure peace, stability and development for all our citizens,” said the Minister. “We urge the leadership of the DRC to embrace the logic of peace and end all attacks on the Rwandan territory. Rwanda stands ready to protect its citizens.” The Minister added.
DRC refuses, then accepts killed soldiers
The next day, following the DRC infiltration, more firing was reported about 5km further north from Busasamana sector. The Congolese soldiers were firing into Rwanda from their positions. However, no casualties were recorded.
On the same day of 12th June, the regional Verificafication team (EJVM) which also includes DRC member, returned to the scene, this time amid increased presence by the Rwanda military.
However, the biggest issue they had to deal with was how the bodies would be handed over to DRC. Members of the Verificafication team proposed that Rwanda hands the dead to their counterparts across. Rwandan army officers turned down the idea saying foreigners are only handed back to their countries through the established border posts.
Later, the Rwanda Red Cross was mobilized and moved the bodies from Busasamana sector, to Rubavu town. The bodies arrived at the Rubavu-Goma main border at around 8pm. There, the Congolese did not appear for about 40minutes. Eventually, about 5 cars emerged.
A Rwanda Red Cross official said at the scene that the bodies had been handed to officials from DRC intelligence agency (ANR). The officials refused to come to Rwandan side of border, instead demanding the bodies to be transported to the area between the two borders – often referred to as ‘No man’s land’.
The five bodies were quickly moved from a Daihatsu pickup, into a Land Cruiser 70. Within minutes, the Congolese disappeared into the darkness, ending two days of accusations and counter accusations.
The DRC government spokesman, Lambert Mende and several other politicians had claimed that only 1 DRC soldier had been killed, and 3 Rwandans. However, DRC has never presented any bodies of the alleged fallen Rwandan soldiers.