Thursday, September 12, 2013

Take us home, former M23 fighters tell Kigali

Take us home, former M23 fighters tell Kigali


By EDMUND KAGIRE, The EastAfrican

Posted Saturday, September 7 2013 at 12:38

Some 680 former members of the M23 rebel movement who fled to Rwanda in February want to return home, citing “poor living conditions” in the internment camp where they are currently being held in eastern Rwanda.

On Monday last week, the former rebels, who have since their entry into Rwanda been disarmed and asked to renounce rebellion, went on strike, prompting the army and police to intervene to quell the situation.

The former fighters, who are loyal to the former M23 political leader Jean Marie Runiga, pelted the guards who patrol the camp with stones and other objects, shouting, “We are tired of living in poor conditions, we want to return home,” according to eyewitnesses.

However, police quickly intervened to quell the situation, encountering resistance from the irate mob of the former rebels. Shots were fired in the air to disperse the former M23 men who threatened to break out of their internment camp located in Ngoma district, Eastern Province.

Both the police and Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs said the incident was triggered by the refusal of the former fighters to undergo a routine check, forcing the police to use force.

“There was nothing unusual. The individuals in the camp refused to be checked. The police wanted to conduct a routine check in the camp to ensure that everything was OK, but the occupants of the camp were not very welcoming,” said ACP Theos Badege, the police spokesperson.

The routine check was aimed at unearthing illegal possessions, mainly arms and narcotics. ACP Badege says the former rebels became “unruly,” adding that those who incited the protest will be dealt with.

Following the incident, the military and police have deployed heavily in the camp. Attempts by journalists to enter the camp were futile.

According to eyewitnesses, however, there had been unrest in the camp for some time until the incident last week, which was the climax of what appeared like to be a building problem.

“We heard them shout that they were tired of conditions in the camp and wanted to return home. We requested security organs for permission to enter but the security personnel guarding the camp refused. We wanted to talk to them and listen to their grievances but we could not,” a journalist from a local radio station said.

The unrest at the camp prompted different ministries and government institutions to meet and discuss the emergency.

Minister of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs Seraphine Mukantabana, whose ministry is running the camp, said that “there was no problem at all” but a routine check that went bad. However, other sources suggest otherwise.

According to sources, the former rebels feel distraught because their applications for asylum have not been considered after many months.


Fleeing combatants

In July, Rwanda made several pleas to the UN to take responsibility for the fleeing combatants — or at least help Rwanda to feed and maintain the group.

The rebels, who include the former political leader Bishop Jean Marie Runiga and one of its top military commanders, Col Baudoin Ngaruye, entered Rwanda in February after fleeing from the fighting between two different factions of the movement. The two are being held in a secret place in the capital, Kigali. Efforts by The EastAfrican to reach them remain unsuccessful.

The rebels entered Rwanda just at about the same time wanted rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda surrendered himself to the US embassy in Kigali and was later handed over to The Hague-based International Criminal Court.

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