Rwandan troops still on payroll: Robert Block in Goma sees defeated soldiers collecting their wages as part of a plan to keep the military intact in Zaire

ALTHOUGH defeated, living in exile in Zaire and supposedly disarmed, the Rwandan army is being kept together by the former Hutu extremist government amid tough talk of launching an offensive to retake Rwanda.

In a large military tent pitched on the side of the road near the Mugunga refugee camp, military paymasters were busy yesterday sorting through piles of computerised lists of active servicemen and counting huge wads of crisp new Rwandan franc banknotes. A queue of soldiers formed near by. Rwandan francs are still used as currency by the refugees and are also being converted into Zaire's currency by some money traders. In Goma's world of squalor, disease and death, money means food, clean water and life.

Wads of Rwandan money were also being distributed yesterday to refugees at the Kibumba camp by men in black Mercedes-Benzes. The former Hutu government has been doing everything possible to prevent the refugees from going home. It does not want to see its base of support and its main claim to power leaving. Crucial to this effort is keeping the military happy.

'This is our pay for June,' one officer shouted at a group of reporters as he counted money. 'No more questions. You can go ask your friend Kagame,' he added, referring to the military commander of the mainly-Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Front (RFP), whose forces defeated the army two weeks ago and drove them into Zaire along with hundreds of thousands of refugees. Rwanda military officers blame the international press and the world community for failing to support them in their fight against the RPF.

But even in defeat, the Rwandan military is united. Thousands of soldiers live in their own refugee camps separate from the civilians. They spend their idle days swaggering through the streets among crowds of refugees. Some, although a relatively small number, are armed despite efforts by the Zairean authorities to collect all weapons.

Compared to the rest of the 1.2 miilion refugees in and around the Zairean border town of Goma, the soldiers look fit and healthy. All are in uniforms, which, considering the amount of dust and filth in the refugee camps, are surprisingly clean. Unlike the 16 civllian refugee camps around Goma, there are few bodies piled up near the army areas.

Yesterday's distribution of the soldiers' wages comes one day after reports that army leaders have been telling aid workers that they will not disband the military. An unnamed senior Rwandan military officer was reported to have told the United Nation's High Comissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Zairean authorities on Wednesday that the army was not going to be demobilised because it was preparing for a counter offensive to 'take back Rwanda'.

The UNHCR has refused to supply relief aid to the soldiers as long as they remained in their own camps with an intact military structure. 'These guys are still together as a fighting unit and we are not going to help them,' said one UNHCR official yesterday in Goma.

UN officials, diplomats and relief workers have expressed fear that the presence of the loyalist forces in Zaire could be a potential source of instability in the region. The US special envoy to Rwanda, Brian Atwood, described the presence of an intact Rwandan army as a 'time bomb'.

But French military sources who have been keeping an eye on the former government army, do not believe there is any danger of the Rwandan army striking out soon. Aid workers also agree.

'From what I've seen and heard, I don't think they represent any real threat for the moment. They've been defeated once and abandoned their equipment,' a relief worker in Goma said.

But if the refugees remain in Rwanda for a longer period of time that might change. Sources in the former Hutu government have said that they were not trying to buy weapons on the international market and expected to be able to launch an offensive within six months.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee