Three years after Nyungwe attack, life remains bleak for Alice Kayitesi

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Three years after Nyungwe attack, life remains bleak for Alice Kayitesi
Three years after Nyungwe attack, life remains bleak for Alice Kayitesi

Africa-PressRwanda. December 2018 will forever evoke painful memories for Alice Kayitesi, one of the survivors of terror attacks perpetrated by the FLN militia in south western Rwanda. On the fateful day, the 25-year-old was travelling back to Kigali to her family after working in Kamembe town in Rusizi District for some time.

Besides the anticipation she had of being able to see her family after a long time and the festive season that was just around the corner, Kayitesi was even more excited about a new milestone in her life.

She was returning to Kigali for a new job, setting her on a path to the good life she always envisaged for herself. “I worked for Tecno in Kamembe, but I had resigned after securing another job and had to travel back to Kigali,” she told The New Times in a phone call interview on Monday, September 13.

However, just a few hours into her long journey, which she says had started around 4:00pm, something happened that could forever change the course of her life.

The bus in which she travelled was immediately stopped in the middle of Nyungwe Forest in a well-planned ambush by a group of armed terrorists who immediately opened fire indiscriminately. Several passengers were killed, others injured and their belongings looted. Kayitesi says that she, alongside one Ivan Bwimba, one of her friends, barely escaped from the bus which was also set ablaze by the attackers.

How it unfolded

In the thickness of the forest, the passengers were shocked to suddenly find logs of trees that were blocking the road. “People who were sitting near the driver came to peep through the windscreen. The assailants started shooting from the front. From a long sight, most of them were dressed in dirty jeans, and filthy shirts. At least they didn’t look like soldiers.”

Among the first casualties was the driver, Kayitesi recalls, choking on tears as she recalled the tragic incident. “With the driver incapacitated, the bus swerved off the road and the bus ended up deeper into the forest,” she said, adding that passengers jumped out to run and the assailants started shooting indiscriminately.

While she managed to escape from the incident albeit with gunshot wounds, Kayitesi says innocent lives were lost, some of them she knew. “It is something that will remain etched in my memory. Every night I have nightmares of this particular incident.”

“I spent that night bleeding and hiding in a swamp. It was too cold and by morning hours my skin was white and I was numb because of the huge loss of blood and the coldness I endured throughout the night. She said she was only rescued the following morning by Rwanda Defence Force officers who rushed her to Kigeme hospital for medical attention.

A hard pill to swallow

Three years after the deadly incident, Kayitesi now a resident of Kimisagara in Nyarugenge district, says she still has a bullet lodged in her leg, and sometimes gets backache due to an injury sustained when she was pricked in the back by a piece of wood as she fled from the attackers.

Besides, she says she gets psychologically disturbed, as would predictively happen to other survivors. Although she survived, her life may never be the same as she battles sustained back injuries, which barely allows her to stand for long, nor effectively work as opposed to her dreams.

Then overcome with emotions she adds; “Honestly, it is hard moving on from certain things.” She added, “Like other girls my age, I had a dream of a good education and setting myself up for a good life. But some people made a decision to change that for reasons only known to themselves.”

Hold perpetrators accountable

The attack in Nyungwe, like several others in the area, were perpetrated by assailants belonging to the FLN militia group, whose political wing was led by Paul Rusesabagina, the man in dock with some 20 members of the same militia group.

Their trial has been going on for much of this year and it is expected to come to an end next week on Monday September 20, when the verdict will be passed by the High Court Specialised Chamber for International and Cross Border Crimes.

“If they could only be taken to that place where I spent a night bleeding in the cold, deep in the forest, or put themselves in the shoes of those mothers who died with innocent babies in their hands,” she said, when asked what she wishes should be the outcome of the ruling.

Of course, Kayitesi believes this is impossible. Then, between sobs, only manages to say that those responsible should be held accountable in a way that discourages anyone contemplating doing the same.

Besides the multiple attacks, mainly targeting passenger service vehicles in Nyungwe Forest, the militiamen also targeted villages in Nyabimata Sector in Nyaruguru District. At least nine people lost their lives while many others were left with life-threatening injuries.

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