Rescued from the massacres of the Hutu refugees in eastern DRC, he recounts the harsh realities of life, calling to conscience and reminding us of the importance of peace.
MANISHIMWE Jérôme, the long way to peace
From June 1994 until October 1996, I lived in the refugee camps of Kashusha in South Kivu about thirty kilometers north of the city of Bukavu. Then I went to take refuge in the Masisi during the destruction of the camp by the soldiers of Kagame on Saturday, November 2, 1996. I stayed for three years in the Masisi and returned to settle in Kavumu very close to the aerodrome of the same name before going to settle in the city of Bukavu. I was an eyewitness to the massacres of my Hutu colleagues by the Tutsi soldiers of Kagame, and it is a miracle that I consider myself today to have escaped from these mass killings, killings of a savagery that will never know a ” equal in contemporary history.
In South Kivu, Rwandan refugees had been placed by the Zairian authorities all around the city of Bukavu (Nyamirangwe, Nyangezi, Hombo, Birava, …); (Ruvunge, Kanganiro, Kamanyola, Sange, Kiliba, …) and along the Bukavu-Goma road (Inera, Kashusha, Adi Kivu, Katana, Kalehe, Kabamba, …). A fairly large number of refugees were also on the island of Idjwi. In total, more than two million souls had found refuge in South Kivu. The members of the Government in exile as well as the dignitaries of the Habyarimana regime were mostly in the city of Bukavu and in the three camps close to the Kavumu airfield (Inera, Kashusha and ADI Kivu) region first in the line of sight of Kagame.
The authorities in Kigali, UNHCR and the Congolese state had done everything they could to convince the refugees to return to the country in vain by signing the famous tripartite agreements and the administrative closure of the camps. Those who had been identified as “instigators” preventing refugees from returning to Rwanda voluntarily had been removed from the camps. Security in the camps was provided by UNHCR’s Congolese Contingent for Security in Camps.
In September 1996, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Emma Bonino visited refugee sites, Kavumu in Inera camp was one of them. On this occasion, after witnessing the horrible conditions of total destitution and despair of the refugees, she spoke and declared that they were under her protection, that no one could disturb their security. Paradoxically, barely two weeks after this visit, she made an urgent appeal to the refugees in the Congo from Geneva inviting them to return home before it was too late. It was at this very moment that the Tanzanian national radio announced that it was aware of an imminent plan of attack of the refugee camps in the Congo.
In October 1996 when Laurent Désiré Kabila’s AFDL launched the famous liberation war from and with the massive support of Rwanda, refugees in and around Bukavu moved to get away from the front and sought refuge in the camps of the town of Kavumu. In all, we were more than a million people piled up in this locality on the eve of its destruction by the alliance RPF-AFDL. At Bukavu, Mobutu soldiers and those who provided security in the camps took the scourge by the Bukavu-Kisangani road that crosses the Kauzi-Biega National Park, leaving behind the poor, single refugees defense at the mercy of Kagame bloodthirsty beasts.
Saturday, November 02, 1996. It is around ten in the morning when a rain of bombs begins to fall on the three camps of Kashusha, Inera and Adi Kivu. It is the total disorientation and the dead and wounded are countless. A long column of refugees headed for the Kauzi-Biega Nature Park and attempted to make their way to Kisangani. In this group were a dozen nuns of the congregation of the Benebikira sisters as well as a Catholic priest. They were caught two days later by the RPF soldiers in Shabunda. The sisters were raped and then killed; the priest was also tortured and executed.
Another human tide takes the road Kavumu-Goma which runs along Lake Kivu. In only two hours since the beginning of the attack, only the wounded, the sick, the elderly and the children who have lost their way in the scramble are left in the camps. They are more than three miles and will be regrouped by Rwandan Tutsi soldiers and massacred on the same day. After having systematically looted the camps, the bodies of the victims will be burned with gasoline and the ashes will be loaded into military trucks and thrown into the Rusizi River according to the reliable testimony I received from the Congolese survivors of Kavumu and Bukavu.
According to the same sources, two young women who were hospitalized in the maternity ward of Kavumu were thrown alive with their infants in the toilets of a local trader named Tumbo. I was part of the flood of people who fled by road to Goma. In passing, the inhabitants of the camps located along the road, those of Idjwi and the local populations came to swell the ranks. Three days later, all this human tide is blocked in Nyabibwe, a small locality some two hundred kilometers from Bukavu. There is no way forward because Kagame’s soldiers took up positions in Minova and operated hand in hand with local Mai Mai fighters who were bought to track down and kill the Rwandan Hutu refugees.
The only remaining solution was to climb the mountains, cross the forests of Masisi and Walikale to try to reach the road that leads to Kisangani. Leaving vehicles, bicycles, mattresses, food, … in short, all their possessions behind them, the refugees then began painfully to make their way to the town of Shanje in Masisi. Two weeks after the capture of Kavumu, the RPF soldiers arrived at Nyabibwe by road and by the lake. Again, the sick, elderly, children and latecomers will pay for their lives and the bodies will be thrown into a cassiterite mine. Again, the property left by the fugitives is plundered by Kagame’s soldiers towards Rwanda.
A small group of people mainly composed of dignitaries from the Habyarimana regime, their families, relatives and shopkeepers tried to repair a road trail that, from the main road some forty kilometers from Nyabibwe headed to Numbi and then to Shanje in the Masisi. About ten kilometers from the main road in a small locality called Chebumba, they fell into an ambush of Kagame’s soldiers and there were very few survivors. The impressive number of carcasses of burned vehicles that are even today on this site testifies to the ferocity and savagery used by the executioners to exterminate these poor Hutu refugees.
The group left Nyabibwe, once exhausted and exhausted by several days of walking in the localities of Numbi and Shanje in the Masisi was soon joined by the human flood party of the camps of North Kivu by the road of Sake. In this basin overhanging hills with steep slopes, the refugees erected makeshift camps. From that moment on, airplanes began flying night and day on the refugees’ movements, presumably to give their position to their pursuers at every moment, because every time these aircraft flew over our position the next day, the soldiers of Kagame were on our heels.
Wednesday, November 20, 1996. From the dawn of mortar bombs and rockets begin to rain on this human tide in the two localities of Numbi and Shanje. Heavy artillery, machine guns, multiple rocket launchers, grenade launchers and small automatic weapons, all were used to kill as many Hutus as possible. Several hundred or even thousands of people perished during this attack. So we were an easy target. The survivors fled to Birumbi, Biliko, Chingurube, Tingi Tingi, Kisangani and Mbandaka. For months through the dense Congolese forest, these poor refugees were pursued and massacred by Kagame’s troops. Their bodies were burned or thrown into rivers. All the media of the world have spoken of this group and of the ordeal they have endured.
The laggards who arrived at the site of Shanje after its destruction found a spectacle of desolation, corpses scattered left to right and the troops of Kagame who were already waiting there. They were forced to pick up all the corpses, burn them and bury the ashes. They were then sent to Minova under a good military escort, so that they could return to the country. Many of them were massacred on the Shanje-Numbi-Minova route. These Rwandan soldiers, more than two thousand, will remain in Numbi for more than a year to track down and kill those who had the audacity to hide in the neighborhood, and God knows they were numerous. Many Congolese suffered the same fate as the Rwandan refugees because they were accused of hiding us, which was true and they speak Kinyarwanda and are Hutu like us. For months, hundreds of refugees were uncovered and taken to Numbi in the improvised military camp. They were tied up with their arms behind and deprived of water and food. At the point of death, they were finished with a blunt weapon and thrown into the numerous pits dug by the miners of the corner.
After the carnage of Shanje, I decided to separate myself from the mass of the fugitives because I understood that our pursuers were faster and more mobile than us. Several thousand other refugees made the same decision and took refuge in the dense forest of Masisi and Walikale. I stayed in the Masisi, Ufamando Group, Luzirantaka. Kagame quickly realized that a good number of Hutu had remained hidden in the forest and had to dislodge them at all costs. To do this, a military camp was established in Ngungu in the Masisi, about a hundred kilometers from Sake. From this base and for more than a year, these troops spread terror and desolation throughout Masisi and Walikale. Due to the difficult topography of the sites, these troops were still supported by combat helicopters, roads being non-existent.
Whole villages were pillaged and burned. Women and girls were systematically raped and then massacred. One important fact to note is that many of these soldiers were Congolese Tutsis who had fled Masisi during the 1995 ethnic disturbances and had taken refuge in Rwanda. For them, all Hutu were good to kill and they made no distinction between Congolese and Rwandans. Today many mass graves are scattered all around this locality of Ngungu and local people are not stingy details to show them and describe what happened there. In both Kivu during this period of terror, some NGOs tried to help all those who came out of the forests to voluntarily return to Rwanda. Transit camps were opened almost everywhere to welcome them.
I will mention among others Hombo, Katale, Nyabibwe, Minova, Sake. The few refugees who ventured into these transit camps were killed by the soldiers in front of the humanitarians who watched helplessly at these savage executions. In short, this is the truth of what I personally experienced or learned from credible sources. I was lucky not to go beyond the Masisi and my testimony covers only a very small geographical entity and is very limited in time because I only stayed in the Masisi for three years. There is no doubt that those who ventured further have experienced worse atrocities than we who stayed in the forests of Masisi.
Those who have taken other roads to the south and the center of the country have had their share of horrors and many testimonies on this subject are available. Those who have been unable to leave the forest have never been respite and are daily hunted and massacred by the men of Laurent Nkunda and Bosco Ntaganda, two Tutsis in the pay of the Kagame regime. Today, more than 14 years after the fact, Kagame and his government are trying to stifle the release of the report commissioned by the United Nations concerning these killings of which they know well to be responsible.
Did not President Pasteur Bizimungu proudly declare before a crowd of jubilant students in Butare that it was the Rwandan army who entered Zaire to destroy the refugee camps ?! Kagame threatens to withdraw his soldiers from Darfur if this report that would qualify the facts imputed to him and his army of genocide is made public. It is his right to withdraw them, especially since many of them were among those who exterminated the Hutu refugees. They are not worthy to wear the United Nations blue helmet and on this subject Kagame is absolutely right to withdraw them before they are caught up in the events.