Several thousand people have rallied in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) city of Goma to protest against Rwanda, a day after the government reiterated claims Kigali backed a notorious rebel group.
Tension in the border city was high on Wednesday as riot police dispersed some demonstrators, many of them angry young men stripped to the waist, who tried to push through the frontier post with Rwanda, an AFP news agency reporter saw.
At least one person was injured.
The crowd chanted slogans against Rwanda and its President Paul Kagame.
“No more Rwandans, let’s go and sort out Kagame,” was one.
“We are demonstrating against the M23’s incursion in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
“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.
General Sylvain Ekenge, a spokesperson for the military governor of North Kivu province, made inflammatory comments to protesters in the city of Goma before asking them to demonstrate peacefully.
“Rwanda does not like us. We are not afraid of it and we will fight it,” Ekenge said. “If it wants war, it will have war,” he said, adding: “No one will occupy a single centimetre of our territory.”
Surge of clashes
Banks, petrol stations, schools, shops and other outlets were closed across Goma, and only a few pharmacies appeared to be open.
Friction between DRC and its eastern neighbour has surged in the past few weeks over the M23 rebel group.
A primarily Tutsi militia that is one of the scores of armed groups in eastern DRC, the M23 leaped to global prominence in 2012 when it captured Goma.
It was forced out shortly afterward in a joint offensive by UN troops and the DRC army.
The rebels resumed fighting last November after accusing the Kinshasa government of failing to respect a 2009 agreement under which the army was to incorporate its fighters.
Clashes intensified in March, causing thousands of people to flee, and on Monday the rebels took the trading town of Bunagana.
The DRC has accused Rwanda of backing the rebels – an assertion that it repeated on Tuesday after several hundred people rallied in Kinshasa to demand President Felix Tshisekedi break off diplomatic ties with Kigali.
Rwanda denies the allegation of involvement.
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.
Meanwhile, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta called for the newly created East African Regional Force to be activated for eastern DRC, noting with concern the “open hostilities” there.
Kenyatta, chairman of the East African Community, said this Sunday’s meeting of regional commanders should be used to finalise preparations for immediate deployment to North and South Kivu and Ituri provinces.
He called for a cessation of hostilities and for the three provinces to be declared a “weapons-free zone” where anyone outside mandated forces would be disarmed.