On Tuesday, December 28, 1993 at around 11.00 am in Mulindi, near the Rwanda-Uganda border, a battalion of 600 battle-hardened refugees chanted as they waited to be escorted by Unamir (the UN Bluehelmets in Rwanda at the time) to Kigali. The battalion was under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Charles Kayonga, now Rwanda Defense Forces Chief of Staff.
These soldiers were part of the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), the military wing of Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) Inkotanyi which was formed in 1987 by the sons and daughters of Rwandese refugees who had been denied the right to live in their country since 1959. They invaded Rwanda in 1990 until they pushed the government in place then to agree to negotiations that led to Arusha Peace Accords signed on August 4, 1993.
“Both parties agreed to form a transitional government based on power sharing between the ruling party, opposition parties and RPF Inkotanyi,” says Senator Tito Rutaremara, who was RPF’s Political Activities Coordinator (interchangeably also referred to as Secretary General) at the time. “It was initially about the Government and Parliament. The military merging would come later.”
In the negotiations, the RPF requested that the transitional government operates in Byumba but the request was rejected. The genocidal regime wanted to give them Camp Kami which the RPF refused because the road to the camp was not tarmacked. The fear was that land mines might be planted along the road.
RPF then asked for Camp Kigali but the Government – seemingly fearing that it would be easy for them to take over Radio Rwanda just in case things change, as well as the fact that they would look weak by ceding the main military camp in Kigali – once again denied the request.
“They proposed that we stay at Parliament House (called CND at the time). The RPF came to investigate the area and we were satisfied. The only thing that mattered to our soldiers was the fact that the place would allow them to defend themselves if they came under attack,” says Senator Rutaremara. “They hastily and happily agreed because they knew that we were surrounded.”
They were in the middle of Mont Kigali, Camp Kigali, Camp Kanombe, Camp Kami, and Camp GP… – all positions that could be used to shell them.
The battalion and politicians left Mulindi escorted by Unamir’s Belgian contingent, in front and back. Soldiers were transported in buses while politicians went in jeeps. It was a long convoy. Wherever they passed, people, even though Government soldiers desperately tried to stop them, stood by the roadside, welcoming and waving at them.
“We also waved at them. They were very happy to see us. There were many people when we entered Kigali; we met a large group of cheering motorists who were waiting for us in Gatsata. We continued along the entire road from Nyabugogo to Kacyiru, but were blocked passing near the ministerial area – they maybe didn’t like the idea that government workers would leave offices and come out and watch us too.”