REPORTER: Andrew Harding – BBC “Newsnight”
In the jungles of Central Africa, a long war is taking a new turn.
These men belong to the Rwandan Army. They`re busy hunting a rebel group. Suddenly, the Rwandans spot their quarry, perhaps half a mile down the valley. The chase begins. It`s become a daily, deadly game of cat-and-mouse. We race along behind, as the army moves in for the kill. Minutes later, a helicopter is called in to help pinpoint the rebels before they vanish back into the Rwandan jungle. By the time we catch up with the frontline, the only rebels we find are dead ones.
The Rwandan troops here are in the middle of a fairly big operation to try and flush out a group of rebels who`ve come down from the volcano, apparently in search of food. The Rwandans say they`ve surrounded them now and are basically mopping up now. We`ve seen three dead bodies, three rebel bodies, so clearly there`s been some serious fighting here. It`s been going on like this for seven years now – a messy, complicated, seemingly endless guerrilla war. The rebels, for the most part, are fanatics. They`re the remnants of a murderous militia, which led the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. At the time, the killers were driven out of Rwanda into neighbouring Congo, but the fighting simply continued there. Now, though, there is change in the air. The rebels have begun losing ground militarily. They`ve been pushed out of the Congo and are suffering heavy casualties.
BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES KABAREBE, RWANDAN ARMY: The last time they were round 2,000.
REPORTER: You killed 2,000?
BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES KABAREBE: Yeah, since May 1.
REPORTER: That`s a huge number.
BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES KABAREBE: Yeah, it`s a huge number.
REPORTER: Do you think that this will mean the end of the war?
BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES KABAREBE: Yeah, we have almost incapacitated them, I think.
But the government`s ruthlessness on the battlefield is now being accompanied by a very different approach towards the rebels. For the first time, the carrot is being brandished as well as the stick. When he`s not fighting rebels, General Kabarebe likes to send them postcards. He`s dropping a pile off on a jungle path often used by the enemy. It`s not as odd as it looks.
BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES KABAREBE: So what we do is to take their photos. All these are either captured or surrendered forces. We take their photos. We write messages. You see, this message was written by one of the captives called Lieutenant Marushumana Jalat. He`s writing to his colleagues who are still there in the forest.
REPORTER: And telling them to do what?
BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES KABAREBE: To surrender, to give them a message that, whenever you surrender, you`ll get received very well, you`ll get good treatment, you`ll get reunited with your family and you will get reintegrated into society.
That evening, we went to the local military barracks in the town of Ruhengeri. We found about 50 rebel prisoners preparing food. A few had been captured, but most said they`d surrendered voluntarily. The postcard diplomacy seems to be working. Some were teenagers, child soldiers who`d been abducted or lured into the rebel army. Eustash Kabarisa said he was 19 and had been fighting ever since 1994. He escaped from his unit and surrendered last week.
EUSTASH KABARISA, FORMER REBEL SOLDIER (Translation): The war is over for me. We weren`t winning it. Now, I want to join the proper army or go back to the family farm.
The next morning, the prisoners were given the warm welcome the General had promised. On a nearby hilltop, thousands of villagers had gathered for a remarkable ceremony. They`d come to greet the prisoners, to see if their sons and husbands were among them and to try to heal the wounds left by so many years of civil war. The General was presiding, as usual. One after the other, the prisoners introduced themselves and asked if their relatives were in the crowd. Many were. Families reunited after years apart. The former rebels were then free to go home, although some will be expected to attend re-education camps later. It`s a sophisticated approach to nation-building in a country torn apart by years of ethnic conflict.
BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES KBAREBE: It encourages us for the future, yeah. It shows that Rwanda, as a community, is very easy to heal and to overcome its past.
Life has certainly changed in Rwanda since the dark days of the 1994 genocide. Now, the population here seems more concerned with the economy than with ethnicity and the divisive politics of Hutus against Tutsis. But still the rebel attacks continue and there are other problems, even closer to home. These are genocide suspects – Rwanda`s prisons are packed full of them. In all, more than 100,000 alleged killers are still awaiting trial. At the current rate, it would take more than a century to get through all their cases. Now, though, the Rwandan Government has come up with a new scheme to speed up the process. It`s a version of the carrot-and-stick approach used against the rebels. The alleged ringleaders of the genocide can still expect no forgiveness. They`re being hunted down and sent to the International Criminal Tribunal in neighbouring Tanzania. But the masses who actually carried out the killings are, for the most part, being offered a way out of prison. At Kibungu jail in eastern Rwanda I met men and women who`d recently agreed to confess to their crimes in return for shorter sentences.
ANASTASE HAKIZAMUNGU, CONFESSED GENOCIDAL KILLER (Translation): I killed five people with a machete. They were my neighbours – two men and three children. Now, I`ve written a letter to the government admitting my crimes. I regret what I did and now I hope this new scheme will mean my sentence can be reduced.
GERARD GAHIMANA, RWANDAN PROSECUTOR GENERAL: There are prospects that most of the people in custody now could effectively go out of prison any day, because most of them have been in prison for a long time already.
To make things go even quicker, the Rwandan authorities are taking more radical steps. After seven years in jail, these young genocide suspects are finally on their way to court. But it`s no ordinary court. A crowd of civilians from the villages the men used to live in have been brought together to give evidence and eventually to pass judgment. Victims and alleged killers confront each other.
GERARD GAHIMANA: Justice for genocide is necessary to promote reconciliation, yes, to promote the rule of law, but it`s also something that is necessary to stabilise our society and to create a conducive environment for peaceful existence and for development. We must have justice if we are to achieve all these goals and, since the ordinary courts are not able to deliver justice, we thought we would try another way.
Witnesses come forward to accuse some of the prisoners of horrific crimes. The suspects answer back. The prosecutor warns the crowd that lying is, itself, a criminal offence. The arguments rage on. This is something of a pilot project, but it`s proving popular and the government is hoping to hold public trials like this one all over the country. It`s a risky policy – releasing known killers back into a society still traumatised by genocide and civil war. But, in its search for peace, justice and reconciliation, Rwanda may not have much of a choice.