In homage to murdered Radio Okapi Bukavu station boss and journalist Serge Maheshe, we are publishing the last interview he made before his death, with MONUC South Kivu Brigade commander General Bajwa. On Monday June 11 2007, the General explained the latest joint operations with the FARDC against the FDLR and Rasta rebels near Bukavu.
General Bajwa, can you please explain the operation in Kahuzi Park?
The present operation which is going on in Kahuzi Biega Park was launched after the massacre of Kanyola where 18 innocent civilians died. The same day MONUC and the FARDC immediately established blocking positions in Nindja Forest, which obliged the rebels to flee towards Kahuzi Biega Park.
Since that day, MONUC and FARDC are chasing them. Twice the rebels were encountered, but because of the thick forest and vegetation we could not get hold of them, but managed to destroy their camps, release some abducted women, but they are still on the run. Nevertheless, the operation is still continuing and it will continue until we catch them. Let's hope for the best.
Is it possible to clarify the relations between MONUC and FARDC troops?
The FARDC has gone through substantial change. Their behavior and response have improved, but they still need to do more to come up to a satisfactory level. Our cooperation is very good at the moment. We coordinate before launching any operation, and most are joint-operations.
Besides ground operations, we also support the FARDC with professional advice, food, fuel, medicines whenever permitted by MONUC rules, and training, of course. I'm quite optimistic that with the requisite training and smooth logistical support, the FARDC's effectiveness can improve.
What guarantees can you give to the local population, who is afraid of retaliations from the FDLR after this current operation?
With so little resources nobody can give a 100% guarantee because the area is so vast. Walangu area, for instance, is about 110 by 90 kms with a population of 700,000 people. Most of them are living close to jungle areas in isolated hutments. To look after this entire area we have one MONUC and two FARDC battalions, which means one MONUC soldier for approximately 60 square kilometres!
On the other hand, the rebels can just hide within the local population, so its very difficult for us to distinguish between a rebel FDLR or Rasta member and a normal person.
We are doing our best to increase our patrols. We have four MOBs (Mobile Operating Bases) to deny rebel entry from Nindja forest to the Walungu area. But to be absolutely sure, we require the collaboration of civilians. We expect some early warning and timely intelligence from them. If they see some new faces in the area, some unusual activity, they must immediately inform FARDC or MONUC forces.
An ideal situation would be that young people should create village scout committees to guard their villages, and in case of emergency they should blow whistles, ring church bells or use cell phones if they have them, to warn FARDC and MONUC forces so that they can respond in time and save more lives.
For example, it was due to the effort of a single individual, who ran and informed a PakBat patrol in the area, that further carnage was stopped in Kanyola. MONUC forces depend heavily on the cooperation of civilians, which act as their eyes and ears, so that they can act in an effective manner.
What are the results of your last operation against the rebels?
During this last operation in April in Nindja forest, 14 Rasta's were killed; however, we could not eliminate them totally. We have good reason to believe that they received moral and physical support from the FDLR, although the FDLR hierarchy denies it. But we have solid evidence that they are involved.
It might be possible that their higher echelons may not be involved, but we have no doubt about the involvement of their lower echelons. We believe that Rasta is acting as a commercial organization of the FDLR. Rasta shares their booty with FDLR like for example food, women, and looted money etc, and in return FDLR provides them with safe havens, arms and ammunitions.
They get food, sex slaves, and money for them. But Rasta can never be very effective in the area without the connivance of certain local criminals. In relation to the number of incidents that have happened, we have information that Rasta had very precise information available to them about the targets.
This cannot happen without local people collaborating with Rasta and FDLR. We are also trying to identify all such collaborators and for this also the locals have to come forward and provide us with the necessary information.
Can you please explain the mandate of MONUC?
MONUC's mandate is to protect civilian against any mass attack, like for example from Rasta and FDLR attacks. There is a difference between policing and peacekeeping. MONUC cannot ensure the protection of each and every individual of the Province.
This is not the duty of MONUC. This is the duty of the Congolese National Police (PNC). However, we are supervising the improvement of PNC and FARDC efficiency. As a result, in the last few months, the crime rate in Bukavu has decreased, although much more is required to bring the security situation to an acceptable level. In this regard, we are helping them with transport, fuel and manpower. We are also monitoring their activities and deployment in the city on daily basis.
Local authorities in Walungu said you promised to chase the FDLR? What is the current situation?
We are in the middle of an operation against the rebels; therefore, it would not be right to give more details of the operation at the moment. Suffice to say that we have established some MOB's to deny rebels access to Walungu area, and at the same time, we are chasing Rastas in Kahuzi Biega Park. The general public will be informed on further details at the appropriate time.
Finally, what message would you like to send to the population of Bukavu?
There is a lot of fear that the events of 2004 will be repeated in 2007. I would like to ensure the population that this will not happen. We are fully prepared to defend Bukavu to the hilt, and will display our resolve when the time comes.
If anybody tries to disturb law and order, or tries to attack the Province, he will be taught the lesson of his life. I want the people of Bukavu to continue with their daily lives, not to heed the baseless rumours, and let us handle the military situation.
I assure the people of South Kivu that this time MONUC will not let them down. Nevertheless, we would like the people of Bukavu to support us in our efforts to maintain peace in the province, instead of paying heed to spoilers. I would also to take this opportunity to categorically refute an allegation circulating in the town that MONUC stopped FARDC pursuing FDLR and Rasta in the month of April and May.
In fact, after this first phase of the operation, we wanted to keep FARDC in the jungle, but because of a poor logistics situation they had to come out and could not carry out further operations, although they were heavily supported by MONUC in terms of troops, rations, fuel and medicine.
This fact can be verified from FARDC hierarchy. Finally, I encourage civilians to help us because MONUC does not have covert means of intelligence. This is the biggest limitation we have. We do not have human intelligence available to us, and we heavily depend on information given by the locals. It is a duty of every Congolese to cooperate with us and give us timely information and intelligence so that we can improve our response.