Cablegate: Interviews with Escaped Cndp Soldiers

DE RUEHKI #0919/01 2961603
O 221603Z OCT 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: On October 20 Goma Poloff had the opportunity to
speak with three escaped CNDP soldiers. The soldiers, 13, 15, and
23 years old, had been brought to Goma by MONUC. The interview took
place on the MONUC DDRRR compound where a handful of CNDP and FDLR
escapees trickle in on a daily basis. They reside briefly in four
tents on the compound before they are either taken back to Rwanda or
handed over to MONUC Child Protection for reunification with their
families. Interestingly, CNDP and FDLR escapees are intermingled in
the same tents with no apparent problems. All three individuals
spoke Kinyarwanda. If their stories are true the CNDP has been
forcibly recruiting child soldiers after agreeing, via the Goma
accords, to not do so. End Summary.


2. (SBU) The first interviewee, Jean-Claude, was a 23 year old
Rwandan citizen from Kigali and a sergeant in the CNDP.
Approximately one year ago, a young friend from his neighborhood
approached him and assured him he could find him a job in Goma.
Jean-Claude, along with five other boys and young men, paid 2,500
Rwandan francs (approximately $5) for a bus ticket to Gisenyi, the
Rwandan border town adjacent to Goma. A man, who would later be
their field commander, met them. The young men spent the night at
the man's house in Gisenyi, at which point Jean-Claude learned that
he would be going to join the CNDP. He still believed he would be
able earn money, however, and decided to continue.

3. (SBU) The next morning at 6:00 am, one and a half hours before
the official opening of the border, the six were taken to the
border. On the Rwandan side they spoke to no one and showed no
papers, though Jean-Claude had an identity card in his possession.
On the DRC side they again did not have to show any documents, but
did have to pay money to the guard. Since it was early on a Sunday
morning there was almost no one at the border. Once in Goma, a man
in a mini bus picked them up and drove them directly to Mushake,
where they were given food and water and were told that training
would begin the next day.

4. (SBU) The training consisted of weapons training, but nothing on
small unit tactics. The fighting he experienced was all in the
Mushake sector of the CNDP-controlled area (Mushake, Sake, and
Karuba) and took place in September and October this year. Life in
the CNDP was extremely difficult, particularly because there was not
much food - mostly cornmeal and water. Also, Jean-Claude
complained, since arriving in Mushake he had not been paid one
franc. Thus, three days prior to the interview, he decided to leave
the CNDP. He was sent on an errand to fetch milk, but instead ran
into the bush to wait for nightfall. At 7:00 pm he approached
Mushake town and found a cow herder who, upon learning his
intentions, told him to approach the MONUC base in town with his
rifle over his head. Jean-Claude did this and was taken into the
base and later to the DDRRR camp in Goma. When asked if other
soldiers in the CNDP knew they had this "option" of leaving the
CNDP, Jean-Claude assumed they did, but noted that it was not
something that was discussed with others; it was a decision taken

5. (SBU) Jean-Claude stated that the CNDP had been recruiting many
young boys locally. Theoretically no one under 16 would be
recruited, and those under 18 would serve only as porters and not
participate in combat. (Note: Other interviewees revealed that
this system was not always respected. End note.) Forced
recruitment had escalated recently - as human rights organizations
in Goma also have confirmed - with 100 individuals recruited in a
single day in Mushake, of whom roughly 40 were below the age of 18.
The population was not happy with these developments, so some
families decided to leave the area to avoid forced recruitment.

6. (SBU) Jean-Claude, when prompted, also commented on other
aspects of CNDP life. He said a common punishment was to be beaten
with a stick. Examples of punishable crimes included the deliberate
killing of a civilian and rape (Note: Poloff had heard CNDP leaders
state this before, though groups such as Human Rights Watch claim
that indiscriminate killing and executions of collaborators were
common. End note.) Jean-Claude had himself not witnessed any

7. (SBU) From his position (which was one of receiving orders
rather than giving them), Jean-Claude always felt that Laurent
Nkunda was firmly in charge. He had not been aware of any potential
divisions in the CNDP command structure. He also did not remember
seeing any RDF (Rwandan Defense Force) officers, though the CNDP
commanders would often allude to the notion that at the last minute
the Rwandans could come across the border and save the day. He said
taking Goma was regularly portrayed as the ultimate military

KINSHASA 00000919 002 OF 002

objective for the CNDP, but that the leadership did not want to
openly confront MONUC. Finally, when asked what kind of movement he
felt the CNDP was, Jean-Claude said it was a Tutsi movement, but
that many Hutu were in its ranks. He said this was not a source of
internal division among CNDP soldiers.


8. (SBU) Luc was a 15 year old Congolese boy from the Mweso area
who had fled from the ranks of the CNDP two days earlier. In early
April 2008, his church was surrounded by CNDP soldiers during a
Sunday service. The commander entered the church and told the
priest they would be taking all the young boys. The CNDP
"recruited" 16 boys under the age of 18 and some younger than 16.
Within a month he had learned to shoot and in May was involved in a
firefight (he was uncertain whether it was against FARDC or PARECO)
in the Mweso area during which three of the 16 boys were killed.
(Note: There did not seem to be as many children within the CNDP at
the time -- just the 13 remaining boys out of 200 individuals --
compared to the more recent situation described by Jean-Claude. End

9. (SBU) Luc said that living conditions with the CNDP were bad.
Like Jean-Claude, he received cornmeal to eat and it was often
spoiled. He was a porter and was not expected to participate in
combat operations unless the fighting was intense. During the
fighting in September he did not participate in the attack on
Nyanzale but he did end up fighting PARECO later around Mweso. When
he saw his chance, Luc left his unit at night and walked about eight
kilometers before sleeping. The next day he made his way to
Kitchanga where he approached MONUC and was then brought to Goma.

10. (SBU) When asked, Luc said he took drugs -- a marijuana-like
substance -- while with the CNDP. However, he did this because
everyone else did, mostly to distract themselves from the fact that
they were tired and hungry. The drugs could be purchased in most
major markets, usually with some of the money that officers had
given them to buy food. He did not give the impression that drugs
were supplied to the children in a deliberate fashion by the CNDP


11. (SBU) Patrick was also a Congolese boy, 13, from around Mweso.
He claimed to have been recruited a year ago. His abduction
happened while he was in school. Approximately a dozen CNDP
soldiers came to the school and informed the teacher that they would
be taking the oldest boys. There had been older boys in other
classrooms, but Patrick thought they must have known what was
happening when they saw the soldiers arriving because they fled and
escaped. Patrick was also involved in combat against PARECO in
early October. Six of the people in his unit of 100 were young
children. Two days prior to the interview he had also left his
guard post with three other boys and went to Kitchanga where MONUC
took him in. Both Patrick and Luc had no idea where their parents
were. However, they feared going home, because that was where they
had been abducted and they might face punitive action if caught by

12. (SBU) Comment: The accounts of these young combatants is a
vivid description of the continuing tragedy of forced recruitment of
child soldiers in the eastern DRC. Although many, if not all, armed
groups in the Kivus are guilty of this practice, these youngsters
were abducted by the CNDP, which has denied accusations that it
recruits child soldiers. As Luc's claim that he and other children
were forcibly recruited as late as April of this year -- after the
Goma agreements were signed -- this also calls into question the
CNDP's good faith, from the beginning, vis-a-vis the Amani process.
End Comment.


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