John Frewen - Relations with locals and the Rwandan Patriotic Army

Running time
2 min 30 sec
Department of Veterans' Affairs


I spent many months also down in the south in Butare in the tactical headquarters. I also later in the mission led little teams that went down to help with the repatriation of the camps, where we had a group of medics and some other specialists and some infantry protection, and we would go and visit the camps and then help process people and the like. So on day-to-day in Kigali, you would have incidental contact with the locals, either them coming to the front gate of the barracks, whether it was kids begging for food, or other sort of just having a bit of fun.

As you moved around town, you would encounter the RPA, which was generally less friendly than with the locals. We also had locals coming into the hospital as casualties. We were also responding to some incidents in around the grounds of the hospital and nearby. So we were interacting with the locals all the time. When I went down to Butare, then we had Rwandan sort of local employed people who were acting as cooks and cleaners inside the buildings and that sort of stuff, but then we're going to the camps. And when you're in the camps, you were completely surrounded by a sea of local humanity, so yeah, but very mixed populations.

Our relationships with the Rwandan patriotic army, the new army were always a bit tense. There were elements inside the camps who had clearly previously been in some of these militias, like the Interahamwe. Very standoffish. And then you had people that we would help in the normal course of their duties who were very appreciative, but often there was very limited English skills, and very limited translator capabilities on our behalf. So you were often just interacting through gestures and goodwill. And then there were the kids, and the kids were always fantastic. And I mean, places like Kibeho and the other camps would have a great time playing around with the kids and sort of playing jokes on them and giving them biscuits and having them play jokes on us and that sort of stuff. So that was always a really enjoyable part of the mission.

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