GOMA, Congo — Ibrahim Nsanzimana says he can no longer return to his home in Rwanda for fear of death. The 28-year-old recounted the tortured history of his Rwandan family’s entanglement with neighboring Congo, and his latest recruitment by Rwanda to fight in eastern Congo.
When the bitter memories and bleak prospects for his future confronted him, his eyes glazed and a tear ran down his cheek.
“They’ll kill me,” he said bluntly, referring to Rwandan officials and their vigorous denials that he is among many men trained in Rwanda and brought to Congo to fight alongside the M23 rebel movement. Out of work and desperate to make a living, he said he agreed to join the Rwandan army in early July.
“Our area chief called a youth meeting, I think it was July 1, and there were about 300 of us young men at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali (Rwanda’s capital). Military police in red berets told us we were all going to become soldiers, and they promised us a salary” equivalent to $60 a month, he said.
They were crowded into five Rwandan Defense Forces trucks and driven at night to Gaviro military camp, home to Rwanda’s School of Infantry near the border with Uganda, where they spent a week learning how to shoot with AK-47 assault rifles.
“Only then did they tell us that we had come here to fight to take North Kivu province (of eastern Congo) and to make it part of Rwanda,” Nsanzimana said. He said the announcement came from Rwandan army Capt. Francois Mugabo.
“When I woke up the next morning, we were in the volcano area in Congo,” he said, brought to fight a war led by the Tutsi tribe that he considers a mortal enemy of his Hutu people.
Terrified that he was going to be killed, Nsanzimana fled into the forest and wandered for days before he was captured three weeks ago by Congolese soldiers. He is being held in an overcrowded holding cell of the military intelligence agency in Goma, Congo’s eastern provincial capital. There, he gave The Associated Press details of Rwanda’s alleged complicity in the latest rebellion in eastern Congo.
Similar stories have been told to officials in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo by fighters who have been captured or turned themselves in to Congolese troops. Some said they were trained at Kanombe military barracks just outside Kigali; others said they received training only once in Congo, near its borders with Uganda and Rwanda.
Eleven Rwandans who surrendered in May said they were recruited as early as February — three months before the rebellion started, according to Patrick Garba, head of the U.N. demobilization office in Goma.
That testimony helped form the backbone of a controversial July report by a U.N. Group of Experts that accuses high-ranking Rwandan officials, including the minister of defense, of helping to create, arm and support the M23 rebellion and some Congolese militias. Their fighting over the past three months has brought some of the worst violence in years to eastern Congo, forcing some 280,000 people to abandon their homes as the rebels have seized a huge swathe of eastern Congo.