Goma — There has been a resumption of bigotry and harassment against Rwandans and Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese nationals in the DRC border town of Goma following the withdrawal of the M23 rebels from the town more than 10 days ago, it has emerged.
The rebels pulled out of the strategic town under a regional brokered peace deal after occupying it for about ten days.
Photo: Congolese Revolution Army (CRA) rebel leader Sultani Makenga sits in a truck in Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), November 20, 2012, soon after the rebels captured the city from the government army. REUTERS/James Akena/Files
The withdrawal saw government troops and police reoccupy Goma and surrounding locations.
But now reports have emerged that many people have been arrested, tortured and held incommunicado in illegal detention centres.
Some of those who managed to escape told The New Times that they were tortured over accusations of colluding with the rebels.
Azarias Mahoro, a Rwandan living in Niboye Sector in Kicukiro, Kigali, narrated the ordeal he went through when he was arrested during a routine business trip to Goma.
“I was arrested by police officers on December 6, and detained for four days until I managed to pay a bribe of 100 US dollars to one of my captors, who in turn facilitated my escape,” he recalls.
For all the days he was in detention, Mahoro who deals in agricultural merchandise, says he was repeatedly beaten and asked to confess his role in the operations of the M23 rebels.
“Upon crossing through the small border (Petite Barriere) I was immediately robbed of the money I had and then thrown in a detention facility after they confiscated my identification documents,” he narrates.
Mahoro says that apart from some Rwandans, he also left more than 50 Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese in the detention centre.
Serge Ndayisaba, a Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese who escaped alongside Mahoro, said he was intercepted on his way from Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu Province.
“After my arrest, I convinced a police officer to lend me a phone so that I can call a relative who would later bail me out,” he said, adding that the relative later brought him some money to bribe a guard who eventually helped him escape.
The duo was received by Rwandan immigration authorities on Monday after they fled without their identification documents.
These latest reports of persecution of Rwandans and Congolese of Rwandan descent are consistent with earlier allegations that that preceded the capture of Goma by M23 rebels.
Four months ago, Rwanda lodged an official complaint with Kinshasa after eleven of their nationals were “dumped” at the border after enduring days of torture.
Several families, especially in Rubavu District, have also reported cases of missing relatives who had crossed over the border to Congo for business purposes.
Resentment towards Rwandans in DRC is thought to have worsened after a group of UN experts controversially accused Rwanda of backing the M23 rebels, allegations Kigali has strongly denied.
The rebels have previously accused Kinshasa of orchestrating a violent campaign against Congolese of Rwandan descent, and the latest allegations are unlikely to have a positive impact on the ongoing preliminary talks between M23 and the government in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.
Dr Venuste Karambizi, a lecturer of International Relations at Kigali Independent University (ULK), said these reports constitute a potential setback in the ongoing diplomatic efforts to find a lasting solution to crisis that has unsettled the region and the wider international community.
He said the revelations call into question Kinshasa’s commitment to a negotiated settlement of the crisis.
“You cannot claim to be committed to peace while at the same time you are arresting and torturing anyone you think is sympathetic to the person you are talking with. If the DRC government is fully committed to negotiations, then it should cease these barbaric actions against innocent civilians,” he said.