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Jumy Kasereka told his mother the Tutsi rebel soldiers would not harm him. After all, he was a schoolteacher, not a fighter, and they would see he was too sick from malaria to move. Kasereka begged his mother to leave with the tens of thousands of others who Laurent Nkunda’s rebels ordered out of the town of Kiwanga after they seized it from Hutu fighters. But Felista Maska refused to go. Hours later, one of Nkunda’s soldiers arrived at the door of the small earth and wicker home, pushed his way in, and, without a word, dragged the 26-year-old teacher out. He shot Kasereka through the head.
“The soldiers didn’t ask any questions. They just shot him,” said Maska as her son was lifted on to a blanket and carried for burial yesterday. “I think the object of the mission was to finish off all the young men. He was a teacher. I tried to tell them. They still shot him.”
Others in Kiwanga offer similar accounts of the systematic killings of adult men – some of them dragged from bed because they were too sick to walk – who remained in the town after Nkunda’s forces ordered it emptied.
The Tutsi rebels said those men who remained were enemies, including members of the Mai Mai traditional militia and Rwandan Hutu forces responsible for the 1994 genocide in their country.
Some were fighters. But many of the dead – the local Red Cross said the toll probably runs into the hundreds – included teachers, United Nations workers and elderly farmers who were too sick to leave or mistakenly thought the rebels would have nothing against them. Moving through the backstreets of Kiwanga, about 45 miles north of Goma, the distinct smell of human flesh decomposing in Congo’s tropical heat wafted from behind closed doors. Some bodies remained on the street. Others were removed by families who returned to bury them, leaving behind bloodstained patches as markers on the earth street.
George Nbavumoya was tending his vegetables in a field when he heard fighting in the town. Others lay down in the crops, but the 58-year-old agriculturalist, who was respected in his community as a supervisor at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, had two daughters at home. He feared for their safety and so headed back into town.
His family said that as Nbavumoya walked through the door, one of Nkunda’s soldiers came in, pushed his Kalashnikov up the man’s nose and pulled the trigger. It blew the back of Nbavumoya’s head off. He was buried in the back of the family plot yesterday.
Nbavumoya’s daughters, a teenager and a 24-year-old student, are missing.
In a one-room home across the earth street from where Kasereka’s body fell lay the corpse of 49-year-old Kapazata Katchuva, a carpenter. His brother, William, had returned to bury the body.
“When the soldiers came here, he stayed in the house and locked the door. The soldiers kicked it in and dragged him out. He stayed because he wasn’t strong enough to move. I found his body outside. They shot him in the side of the head. I can’t know why they did it.”
In another home nearby a crucifix hung on an apparently bullet-pocked wall. On a wooden table, a metal kettle stood surrounded by rags and pamphlets. On the floor four members of the same family lay, their limbs touching, entwined in death. Some houses were crowded with bodies. One had 12 corpses, another had five.
Some of the dead were government soldiers and others appeared to be Hutu militiamen. The bodies of two young men wearing military-style trousers lay on a street corner. Locals said Nkunda’s fighters put the trousers on the bodies. That may be true. Both were wearing civilian trousers underneath, an unusual amount of clothing in Congo’s heat. But no one could say who the young men were, suggesting they were not local.
Most of Kiwanga is deserted now after its 35,000 residents were forced from their homes, leaving pigs free to roam. Some who fled locked their doors with padlocks, but a number were kicked in and the homes looted.
In a tiny house with a bed and one chair, the dresser on which the most precious items were displayed – a few glasses, a bowl, a religious print – had been upturned and everything smashed.
Only the centre of Kiwanga is crowded, mostly by people who are refugees in their own town.
Nkunda’s forces seized Kiwanga when they took the neighbouring town of Rutshuru last week. Kiwanga was packed with Hutus and others who fled years of fighting to the north and west. The renegade Tutsi leader regarded Kiwanga has a hotbed of Hutu subversion. Nkunda says he has the support of the people by liberating them from an ineffectual government and Hutu militias who have plundered the local population. But that is not how it is seen among those forced from their homes.
A small crowd grows larger, and furtive comments become denunciations as anger pours forth against Nkunda’s National Congress for People’s Defence.
“The CNDP told everybody to get out. They took some young men away and shot them. Others they took and we don’t know what happened to them,” said one man. “The CNDP killed the people who didn’t leave their houses. They saw a man on the street, they killed him. CNDP said everybody who stayed is considered Rwandan militia or Mai Mai.”
Another man interrupted. “We don’t want the CNDP here. We don’t believe in CNDP. We want the government here.”
People are less outspoken in other areas recently seized by Nkunda. In Rugare, Joseph Rulenga has been appointed the new chief by the CNDP. Tutsi rebel forces stood by as villagers attended a meeting where Rulenga said he was instructing them on matters of development and security. As the crowd sat immobile and sullen, he ranted against Congo’s enemies. High on the list was France, which is pushing for European intervention to protect Goma from Nkunda. “France is the first enemy of the people of Congo. The special envoy of the UN who came to Goma is from France and he said something bad about us. If he comes here, we will eat him.”
But many Congolese regard Nkunda and his army as the foreign problem.
“They are Tutsis and we all know the Tutsis come from Rwanda. They should go back there,” said a man in Kiwanga.
That is not true, but Nkunda’s close ties to Rwanda, after he served in its army, have left many Congolese believing he is serving Rwanda’s interests. So has the fact that many of his soldiers do not speak French. In the town of Kibumba yesterday, Nkunda’s soldiers lined up dozens of local men by the road. Many are being used by the fighters to carry supplies. The soldier in charge offered a “good morning” and a few more words of English. Then he thought better of it, perhaps fearing it would give away that his origins are not Congolese and that he is a Rwandan Tutsi who grew up in exile in English-speaking Uganda.
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Chris McGreal – The Guardian
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