Officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have assured leaders of the Tutsi community they are working to protect Tutsis across the country amid rising resentment sparked by a mutiny led mainly by Tutsi soldiers in the east.
Minister of Security and Internal Affairs Charles Muyej said he had given instructions to this effect to governors across the vast country.
“I think we have to realize that we are one people with many components. This diversity is an asset for our country. We insist that this is not the time to discriminate because of what is happening in the east. We must remain united,” he said.
The minister was speaking on 12 July after receiving a delegation of Tutsi leaders led by Azarias Ruberwa, a former vice-president and also, until a 2003 peace deal ended years of conflict, the leader of a rebellion based in the east.
“The Tutsi community’s message is one of peace,” Ruberwa told reporters after the meeting.
“No one should be harassed or threatened because of their physical appearance. We want our fellow countrymen to understand that members of the Tutsi community want to see the fighting in North Kivu end as soon as possible,” he said.
On 11 July some senior members of the ruling Parti populaire pour la reconstruction du Congo (PPRD) threatened to hunt down Tutsis and “send them back to Rwanda”.
The following day, Information Minister Lambert Mende suspended the head of the national broadcasting company (RTNC) for not halting the live broadcast of the political rally where these threats were made.
“That the message was broadcast on state TV without being interrupted makes the station responsible for creating potential insecurity for certain ethnic groups…. We have learnt that certain malicious elements, manipulated by those behind the attacks in our country, who are in Rwanda, wanted to give the impression [that Tutsis are being targeted.] So such dubious messages risk giving the impression that the government is behind such actions, which is not the case. This is why the government took firm action against the RTNC director,” said Mende.
While DRC has accused Rwanda, where Tutsis are seen to dominate the government, of backing the M23 rebel group, many Tutsis have lived in DRC all their lives and consider themselves Congolese nationals.
André Kimbuta Yango the governor of Kinshasa and Kinshasa chairman of the PPRD, also issued a message of peace.
“Kinshasa residents, I don't want to hear that you are hunting down our brothers from the Tutsi community living in the capital. Soldiers from their community within our army are also dying like any other soldiers from other communities,” he said.
The officials’ remarks follow incidents in the North Kivu capital, Goma, which lies on the Rwandan border and where street children and motorcycle taxi drivers recently went on the rampage, attacking those perceived to be Rwandans or Tutsis.
“They would catch anyone who looks like a Rwandan and beat him and take them to the Rwandan border,” said a witness to such events, Junior Kambale.
UN envoy to DRC Roger Meece also spoke out against such hostile actions.
“People who take up arms for their so-called claims [of Tutsi persecution] have already committed serious crimes, which is contributing to extend the cycle of violence,” he said.
“Civilians are the ones suffering and keep paying the price of the situation. It is very important to reach an understanding, to get together for regular talks in order to reduce tension, as more tension between communities will worsen the problem,” he told reporters.