BY JEAN D’AMOUR MBONYINSHUTI
For years, Major Sylvestre Muhirwa, was a spokesperson of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a terrorist group based in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Part of his job was to juggle between radio stations and other media houses operating in North Kivu, in eastern DRC, disseminating propaganda on behalf of the group.
This was before he decided to put down his weapon, and together with his wife and six children, returned home in March this year. He is among the 75 former militiamen who were discharged at Mutobo Demobilisation and Reintegration Centre in Musanze District, after a six-months training. The training entails civic and vocational training to help the ex-militiamen reintegrate in their respective communities.
Muhirwa said in an interview that he operated from an area called Walikale. He said despite being a senior officer in the militia, he was held ‘captive’ as a punishment meted out on those who top commanders suspected were planning to repatriate. “I was close to the senior commanders and interacted with them daily. This meant that organising my repatriation with my family was hard,” Muhirwa said.
Muhirwa on Tuesday rejoined his family in Nyamagabe District. Upon being discharged, they are given financial capital and equipment to help them start up businesses. Muhirwa went to DR Congo in 1994 as a civilian but was later recruited into FDLR and rose through the ranks to become a major.
The FDLR is largely composed of elements responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, which claimed the lives of close to a million people. “What hurt me most is the fact that I was a captive and yet had no reason to stay in jungles having done nothing wrong back home,” he said.
Muhirwa said he got his escape opportunity when his wife fell sick and he sought permission from his commanders to take her to hospital. “Her sickness was a blessing in disguise for me and my family. My children now attend school and get medical care when they fall sick,” he said.
“It was not easy to reach the Monusco (UN) base. Along the way there were Congolese soldiers who were in contact with FDLR and if caught, they could easily betray us,” he added. Another senior officer who completed the course with Mwizerwa is Major Jean Paul Mbabazi, who commanded a unit within the militia group.
Jean Sayinzoga, the chairman of Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission (RDRC) said it was a great opportunity for the ex-militias to play a role in the building of their nation. He urged them to integrate in their respective communities and work towards building a peaceful country.