Anti-Rwanda tensions boil over in eastern DR Congo city of Goma

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An anti-Rwanda rally in the eastern DR Congo city of Goma boiled over into looting Wednesday, as bare-chested men ransacked shops and searched cars they suspected of transporting Rwandans.

Several thousand people took to the streets to protest Rwanda in the morning a day after the Congolese government reiterated claims that Kigali backs the M23 rebel group.

The demonstrators, some stripped to the waist, rushed the border with Rwanda, chanting slogans against Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Riot police fired teargas to disperse the crowd, according to an AFP reporter, who said that at least one protester had been injured.

Later in the day, protesters pillaged Rwandan-owned shops in a commercial district in Goma. Some also stopped and searched vehicles for Rwandans—many of whom made a bid to escape across the border during the chaos.

“We are calling on the government to give us uniforms and weapons so that we can fight” the Rwandan army, a demonstrator who gave his name as Eric told AFP, to the applause of other demonstrators.

Friction between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and its eastern neighbour has surged in the past few weeks over the M23 rebel group.

A primarily Congolese Tutsi militia that is one of scores of armed groups in eastern DRC, the M23 leapt to global prominence in 2012 when it captured Goma.

It was forced out shortly afterwards in a joint offensive by UN troops and the Congolese army.

But the militia has recently made a comeback, clashing frequently with Congolese troops in violence that has inflamed tensions in Central Africa.

‘Every centimetre’

On Tuesday, hundreds of people protested in the capital Kinshasa, more than 1,500 kilometres to the west, where they urged the DRC break off diplomatic relations with Rwanda.

The government said the same day that it “condemned” Rwanda for its alleged support of the M23 and promised to defend “every centimetre” of Congolese territory.

M23 rebels captured the key border post of Bunagana this week, following weeks of escalating clashes with the Congolese troops.

After years of relative calm, the group took up arms again in late November having accused the Kinshasa government of failing to respect a 2009 agreement that involved incorporating its fighters into the army.

Clashes then intensified in March, causing thousands of people to flee.

The DRC has repeatedly accused Rwanda of backing the rebels and in late May it banned flights from Rwanda’s national carrier in protest.

Rwanda denies any involvement, and both sides have accused each other of cross-border shelling.

Relations between Kinshasa and Kigali have been strained since the mass arrival in DRC of Rwandan Hutus accused of slaughtering Tutsis during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

The African Union, the United Nations and others have appealed for calm.

(AFP)

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