The commander of one of the Rwandan militia hiding out in the eastern Congolese mountains has told Sky News his men will not disarm without guarantees for their safety.
Colonel Bonheur – as he called himself but which is almost certainly not his real name – said his band of soldiers would be forced to continue fighting unless a political solution can be found.
Speaking from his mountain hideout, he said: “We are tired of war. We want peace. But we need the international community to step in and mediate.
“They know what they have to do and they know very well how to solve the problem. They need to pressurise Rwanda.”
He said he and his men want to return to Rwanda and reform the militia as a political party.
The militia soldiers are living in straw huts in the Congolese mountains
That is unlikely to be accepted by the current President Paul Kagame, who they want to unseat.
The colonel and his unit – which he called the Tigers – are a branch of the FDLR (The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) – and are wanted by the United Nations for war crimes.
They are accused of being among those who tried to wipe out the Tutsis in Rwanda way back in 1994.
The genocide then has been the backbone of the region’s woes ever since. Wars have led to an estimated four million people losing their lives over the past 20 years.
The FDLR militias have been blamed for continued mass killings and rapes inside the Congo ever since and their existence has led to the creation of an estimated 30 Congolese armed groups who are also responsible for atrocities, as all the different armed groups battle for control of the region.
Colonel Bonheur says the international community must intervene
Military action against the FDLR was threatened by the UN, but it was persuaded to hold off until December after South Africa and Tanzania – who are allied with Congo’s Joseph Kabila – argued the militia should be given time to voluntarily surrender their weapons.
It is an option America does not believe the rebels will take.
The colonel said: “We urge the international community to take pity on us.”
He insisted some of his men had surrendered and handed in their weapons but the remainder are fearful of giving up their guns because of reprisals from the Congolese.
Instead they have shifted on to the mountains with their families, where they shelter in straw huts, some with plastic sheeting but most without.
One woman said: “We are starving. We just eat leaves boiled in water.”
Another man told us: “We are a people without a country now. We need help.”
A global day of peace means little to these people.
Most were unaware of it and the colonel said disparagingly: “The Americans can sort peace here in an instant. They just don’t want to.”
He, like many others weary of the war in this region, believe the chaos and instability caused by it suits many who are plundering the country of its rich natural resources.
Source: Sky News