The shooting down of Falcon 50 jet carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda, President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi, and French flight crew. April 6, 1994.
An eye witness account. By code name “Water Melon”. Narrated on January 17, 25, and 28, 2007. Narrated to Timothy Kalyegira.
RPF shoots down several aircraft before 1994
It should also be noted that the RPF guerrillas had shot down several aircraft before April 1994, and did not deny these incidents:
1) On October 3, 1990 in Matimba in Rwanda, a Rwandese spy plane was shot down by the RPF
2) On October 23, 1990, a Gazelle helicopter was shot down by the RPF over Nyakayaga inside Rwanda.
3) On September 10, 1991, a Fokker Friendship F-27 plane owned by the Zairean (now Democratic Republic of Congo) company SCIBE was shot down over the Rwanda-Uganda-Zaire? border area by the RPF.
4) In Feb. 1993, another Rwandan military helicopter over Cyeru in Rwanda was shot down by an RPF missile.
So, once again the question remains: who killed Habyarimana and President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi on April 6, 1994?
Background to the Uganda Record version
In Nov. 2006, the French anti-terrorism judge, Jean-Louis? Bruguière, issued arrest warrants for several senior RPF government officials and military officers whom, he said, his investigations had found were responsible for the shooting down of the plane.
Rwanda angrily dismissed the report and within days had severed diplomatic relations with France.
At the Daily Monitor newspaper in Kampala in December, a reporter Angelo Izama was at work at his computer when the reception transferred a call to him. The call was from a stranger who said he had some information on the plane incident.
He wanted to speak to the Political Editor of the newspaper, Andrew Mwenda, who at the time was at Stanford University in the United States on study leave. The stranger then left his phone number with Izama and that is where it ended.
Later, as this writer discussed the news of the Rwandan arrest warrants with Izama, Izama said he had received a call from a man who claimed he had information to do with the incident.
I got the number from Izama and waited for a month before calling him up.
When I did, he explained that he had important information that would shed light on who shot down the plane.
We agreed to meet at a secret location, which we did in Jan. 2007. This man, a Ugandan who, with hundreds of others had gone to Rwanda in 1990 at the start of the RPF invasion, claimed that he was an eye witness to the actual shooting down of the plane.
He said he had been a member of the RPA’s Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) and it was the DMI that carried out the attack.
His story was sensational and naturally raised the question of why his version of the events of April 1994 should be believed over the many other versions that had come out since 1994.
He claimed to have been the only survivor of the team that shot down the plane and was later arrested by the RPA’s DMI, he claims, as part of their effort to erase any evidence of their role in the missile attack.
However, he said, he escaped from detention one day after taking advantage of a careless soldier on guard and escaped to Uganda. He had lived for one year in hiding near Lake Wamala in Mityana district in central Uganda.
His extraordinary story seemed plausible when he mentioned the sequence of events that day, the people involved, the places he mentioned, and although he did not know that I was cross-checking everything he told me over a series of meetings, what he said seemed to match the reality of the time.
For the purpose of this story, he has been code-named “Water Melon”.
1. At the time of the August 1993 ceasefire between the government of Rwanda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in Arusha, Tanzania, the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) had set up its military intelligence headquarters at Mulindi, in the Byumba district of Rwanda.
2. The Commanding Officer of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) in the RPA was Colonel Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa. The vice Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Colonel Jackson Mutabazi Rwahama. Water Melon was an escort to Rwahama.
3. At the time of the invasion of Rwanda in October 1990, Rwahama was a Captain. He was later to become the Commanding Officer of the RPA Military Police after 1994. Up to 1993, Rwahama was the administrative officer of the RPA’s Directorate of Military Intelligence.
4. Under the terms of the Arusha accords, the RPA’s DMI was to provide security to the RPF Members of Parliament in Kigali who had been selected to represent the RPF in the National Assembly. 600 RPA soldiers were to be based at the parliament in Kigali to provide this security to the RPF members of parliament. The RPA unit at the Kigali parliament buildings was called the Republican Guard.
5. The DMI agents used to transport firewood to the RPA soldiers at the parliament buildings which was used for cooking. The firewood was ferried in a Mercedes Benz trailer lorry.
6. Hidden on the floor of the Mercedes trailer were RPA soldiers whom the RPA was secretly taking to Kigali to reinforce the 600 soldiers agreed upon under the terms of the Arusha accords. A few RPA soldiers at a time were ferried to Kigali until their total reached 1,400 men. This brought the total number of RPA soldiers in Kigali to 2,000. At that point, the RPA stopped taking any more men to Kigali and the mission was brought to an end.
7. Around February 1994, the RPF went on a secret mission. The Rwandese refugees in Uganda had created an association which they called “Banyamulyango”, to coordinate their political and social activities.
8. Secretly, a large consignment of machetes (known in East Africa as pangas) was purchased and sent to the NRA detach at a place called Kamwezi in the Kabale district of southwest Uganda. The machetes were wrapped in polythene paper and packed in wooden crates.
9. They were loaded onto a yellowish-green Tata lorry with Ugandan registered number plates. The RPA intelligence officer, Lt. Colonel Jackson Rwahama, came to the RPA detach in a red Toyota single cabin pick up and received the machete consignment.
10. Rwahama then drove across the border into Rwanda and with the Tata lorry behind him, the consignment was taken to the PRA headquarters at Mulindi. High security was observed around the lorry. Soldiers who saw the machetes as they were unpacking them were told that they had been brought to clear the jungle and bush area around the Mulindi camp.
11. In March 1994, the RPA turned to another mission: to try and locate the best vantage point to position themselves as close as possible to the flight paths over the Kanombe airport. “Water Melon” was able to establish this new mission based on the conversations that he picked up as an escort to the DMI’s vice commanding officer, Lt. Col. Rwahama.
12. To carry out this reconnaissance, the DMI operatives had to evade roadblocks set up in Kigali by the FAR government army. To do this, they got help from a Tutsi employee of the United Nations based in Kigali.
13. This Tutsi who worked for the UN, was in his 50s or late 40s, he lived in a suburb of Kigali called Kikukiro, and most of his family lived in Burundi.
14. This Tutsi man drove a blue Toyota Hilux single cabin pickup and his role was to guide the RPA’s DMI agents around Kigali and he helped them locate the best vantage point below the aerial flight paths leading to Kanombe airport.
15. The UN guide took the RPA DMI personnel on three trips to study the Kigali area. The first trip took them along the Bugesera, while the second reconnaissance trip took the group long the Mulindi road. They came back through the Masaka road and returned to the Parliament buildings.
16. A third trip was made and it would be the final one. On this third trip, the DMI crew left the Parliament buildings on foot to the home of the UN man in the Kikukiro suburb. They returned to Parliament in his Toyota pickup.
17. The RPA had an armory at their camp at the Parliament buildings. In that armory the RPA kept three missiles. These missiles and a missile launcher were wrapped in an olive green polythene material.
18. After the DMI personnel returned from the Kikukiro suburb on the Toyota pickup, they headed for the armory. They got out three missiles and took them outside. The missiles were put onto a four-inch foam mattress. The launcher was also put alongside the missiles. The mattress was then rolled and tied up.
19. Supervising the whole exercise was Lieutenant Bosco Rumenera who was the Intelligence Officer of the RPA Republican Guard. Also supervising this mission of packing the missile was Major Stephen Munyandinda, the Operations Intelligence Officer of the 600-man Republican Guard.
20. Another man on that missile team was Sergeant James Rwaka of the DMI staff. He was in charge of logistics and finances. It was his job to pay the DMI staff and pay them on their missions. He had studied for a Law degree from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.
21. Also on the DMI team was a man called Joseph Nyamitale. He was a Ugandan of the Bakonjo tribe from Kasese in western Uganda. He was a private in the RPA and was an artillery specialist. He had received his artillery training at the RPA’s training wing in Gikoba, in Rwanda.
22. The missiles and launcher were put onto the Toyota pickup. Then around or just after five O’Clock in the afternoon of April 6, 1994, the DMI team and their escort “Water Melon” left the Parliament buildings. The UN man was driving the pickup.
23. Bosco Rumenera was dressed in a tan suit, white shirt, and striped necktie. He was a tall man and had a missing front left tooth.
24. The UN man wore a brown shirt and ash-grey trousers. Nyamitale wore a black T-shirt and black jeans.
25. During that day, the RPA commander Major-General? Paul Kagame sent a radio message to the RPA units in Kigali giving some instructions.
26. They drove along Masaka road via Mulindi and then turned onto a dirt road off the Masaka road. They drove about five kilometres along that road until they reached a house belonging to a friend of the UN man.
27. It was an old house with an iron sheet roof. Outside the house were four cows grazing. The DMI team stayed inside the house until after sunset and then set off again.
28. The DMI team walked to a nearby hillock and settled at the top of it. The hillock was about 50 metres away from the old house.
29. This hillock was about three kilometres away from Kanombe airport and the DMI team could see the lights of the airport in the distance from where they stood.
30. The Tutsi UN man remained in his pickup a short distance away from the old house as the DMI team settled on top of the hill.
31. On top of that small hill was a large white tent with the initials “UNHCR” printed on it. The DMI team took the missiles and launcher with them into the tent where they were unwrapped.
32. The missile launcher was an olive green military colour. It was in two parts that the DMI team fitted together into one tube. The point where the two tubes were joined together was black. The DMI team then waited for a while. It was now around half past seven or coming toward eight O’Clock in the evening.
33. About 30 minutes after they arrived at the hillock, a male voice came on Lt. Bosco Rumenera’s Motorola two-way radio. Lt. Bosco Rumenera’s radio code name was “Sixteen-Charlie”.
34. The voice called out, in English: “Sungu-Sungu, Four-Nine-Romeo?.”
Sungu-Sungu? replied, in English, “Go ahead.”
Four-nine-Romeo? then said, in English, “Connect me Double Five.”
Sungu-Sungu? called out three times: “Double Five?” but there was no reply from Double Five.
Four-Nine-Romeo? then called out three times, in English: “Two-Zero-Nine, Four-Nine-Romeo?”
Two-Zero-Nine? then called twice, in English: “Sixteen-Charlie, Two-Zero-Nine?”
Two-Zero-Nine? then replied, in English: “Four-Nine-Romeo, go ahead.”
Four-Nine-Romeo? then called out, in English: “Sixteen-Charlie, Four-Nine-Romeo?”
Sixteen-Charlie? then replied, in Kiswahili: “Sukuma ujumbe.” (Send your message””
Four-Nine-Romeo? then gave the order, in Kiswahili: “”Okiwone kitu yote, piga!” (“If you see anything, hit!”)
After that order, Sixteen-Charlie? replied, in English: “Over, out.”
35. The artillery specialist, Private Joseph Nyamitale, then got the launcher, now with a missile inside it, and placed it on his shoulder. He pointed the launcher into the dark night sky.
36. The missile launcher then started giving off a wailing, siren-like noise. Nyamitale then told his colleagues in Kiswahili: “Missile ena liya. Kwisha pata target.” (“The missile is crying. It has located its target.”)
37. After Nyamitale said this, the escort “Water Melon” of the DMI was ordered to leave the location and return to the old house. A teenage boy at the old house who had followed the team out of curiosity was also sent back to the house.
38. The escorts had barely left the location when they heard a single explosion at the location where the DMI officers stood. It was the sound of the missile being fired.
39. The escorts stayed at the house while the team led by Bosco Rumenera remained at the location where they had fired the missile. During the aftermath of the firing of the missile, Bosco Rumenera and his team got into steady radio communication with unknown people in another part of town.
40. The lights at the airport remained on for a while in the immediate aftermath of the shooting down of the presidential jet.
41. Three hours later, at about 11:00 p.m., on April 6, 1994, the escorts were finally called back and told to pack the remaining two missiles onto the back of the Toyota pickup. The team then drove off.
42. The team, driven by the UN Tutsi official, encountered a roadblock at Mulindi manned by the government soldiers. The UN man suggested that they avoid the roadblock and instead walk through the nearby bush back to the Parliament buildings.
43. The DMI team got out of the pickup and started walking in the direction of the airport while the UN official turned back and drove in the opposite direction with the two remaining missiles and other accessories.
44. The DMI team emerged from the bush and onto the road leading from the airport to the Lemera suburb of Kigali. The whole of Kigali city was in upheaval, with chaos everywhere and people on the streets and roads talking about an aircraft accident. But at that time, Bosco Rumenera, Joseph Nyamitale, and the DMI team did not understand what was going on.
45. They walked on, toward a place called Kyemihurura and encountered a serious roadblock, manned by soldiers and men in civilian clothes holding machetes. The DMI team were ordered to stop but pleaded to be allowed to go on their way.
46. The soldiers ordered them to sit down by the roadside. At that point, sensing danger, Bosco Rumenera drew out a pistol and shot two of the civilians in the chest. They fell down dead on the road.
47. Other men at the roadblock, seeing this, pounced onto the DMI team and overpowered them. They cut Bosco Rumenera into pieces with a machete. Joseph Nyamitale, the man who fired the missile that blew up the Falcon 50 jet, was also hacked to death by this group manning the roadblock. Sergeant Rwaka was taken away captive.
48. The escort “Water Melon” had been walking at a distance of about 30 metres behind the DMI team and he stopped in his tracks when he saw what was happening at the roadblock.
49. After he watched his colleagues being hacked to death, he fled the scene and back in the direction from which they had come, toward town until he found the St. Famie Church and took refuge there. Inside the church were ordinary civilians, both Hutu and Tutsi, and some of them were listening to the news over small radios.
50. The news was entirely about the death of the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, blown up by a missile as the plane approached landing at Kanombe airport en route from a summit in Tanzania. That was when “Water Melon” made the connection between their DMI mission that night and the events unfolding in Rwanda.
51. There was no other aircraft that had been shot down by a missile or any other gunfire that night over Kigali or any other part of Rwanda. This made “Water Melon” realise that their mission, which they did not fully understand at the time, had been to shoot down the plane carrying President Habyarimana.
52. Lieutenant Bosco Rumenera and Private Joseph Nyamitale died at the roadblock without knowing the magnitude of the mission that night, April 6, 1994.
This story is true according to a deserter of Rwanda Patriotic Army-RPF, whose identity we shall protect and call him FRELIMO.
According to FRELIMO;the Tutsi man who worked for the UN that is named in the story was well known to him.
That’s Francoir, pronounced-Furanswa and he worked as a driver with UNHCR. Francoir lived in Kicukiro near Gikondo. He was Tall,with a thick moustache, chain smoker and always smiling.
Between November 1990 and April 1991, I used to meet Francoir on weekends in the afternoon(4:30pm) at the American Embassy with the help of a security guard called Mugabo. When everyone was gone home and it was only the three of us.
What was funny is that next door was the Military police and we used to laugh about it. We always sat in the lawn by the ambassadors office, as it had a very high wall between the embassy and military police next door, we would smoke marijuana.
We spoke swahili: Francoir spoke Kirundi swahili while Mugabo spoke Congolese swahili.
Later at night we would then meet outside Nyamirambo stadium where we used to have a good view of planes landing at kanombe international airport. Mugabo always suggested the downing of Sabena planes with AK47 and Francoir would interrupt and say No, you need a missile. I then Asked him if he would shoot down Habyarimana’s plane, he would say of-course but it would need an expert. I then suggested that some Inkotanyi(RPA fighters) had acquired artillery training and would be the best for the job.
I did pass on the details of the conversation to Afhande Jackson Rwahama via a contact in the Tanzanian embassy.
Why I say its the same Francoir, is because he’s the only UN driver with all his family in Burundi that lived in Kicukiro,drove a blue Toyota Hilux single cabin pick-up and always had the habit of asking you to walk whenever he almost got near roadblocks on avenue de Republique.
Also “Water Melon” managing to escape and walking to St. Famie Church is another evidence- St. Famie Church was behind the UNHCR by the round-about of avenue de Republique and Francoir always went there nearly everyday to drop internally displaced people.
They were always two main roadblocks one between avenue de Republique and Boulevard de la paix. The second roadblock on the junction of avenue de Republique by the military police and avenue du Roi Baudouin towards the parliament.
Yes, I can see them walking on a hill-climb off Boulevard de l’OUA and on to Rue de Ntaruka were they bumped into the rear of the roadblock. Its also very possible that “Water Melon” managed to escape, because anyone behind at a distance could easily escape and enter St. Famie Church.
In May 1991, Francoir organised my escape to Burundi. I’m not sure if he’s still alive!!