Rubavu — At least 62 Rwandans yesterday arrived at the western border town of Rubavu from the Congolese town of Goma fleeing from what they called "targeted attacks". By press time, more were expected to arrive from the capital of the troubled North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Mobs, including motorcyclists, are calling on the ordinary people to target Rwandans.
Immigration officials at the border said that over 40 of those who arrived were students at DRC's Goma University and medical interns at Goma hospital.
The students said they were escaping mounting bigotry against Rwandans and other Kinyarwanda speaking communities in the Congo.
Anti-Rwandan sentiments have flared up in DRC in the recent past following allegations that Rwanda was backing the M23 movement rebels, mainly composed of Congolese army deserters who took up arms - in protest of alleged mistreatment - about two months ago.
The fear-stricken Rwandans who arrived at the border yesterday said they were helped to cross over by members of Congolese police.
Chantal Nyiramutarutwa, one of the students, said she was "rescued" by fellow students who alerted the police about an imminent attack. "Our fellow students made repeated calls to the police in order to come to our rescue otherwise we would not have found our way here," she said.
Most of those who returned home said that sections of Congolese civil society in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, had waged a persecution campaign against Rwandans.
"Mobs of Congolese, including motorcyclists, are calling on the ordinary people to target Rwandans, claiming Rwanda is backing the rebels," said Justin Nsengiyumva, another returning student.
Alphonse Munyurangabo, an official from Rwanda's Immigration and Emigration Department, told The New Times at the border. "There are many others who are yet or were unable to cross; it is very hard to estimate the exact number."
Nsengiyumva claimed that mobs had erected a roadblock in Goma where they carry out checks to identify Rwandans, adding that he was roughed up, robbed of US$50 and had his identification and travel documents confiscated, as he scampered out of the town.
The development will not help the already tense relations between the two countries, coming just days after Rwanda warned of a growing "bigotry" campaign against Rwandans in the Congo, mainly by individuals and groups close to government.
A few weeks ago, Rwanda accused DRC of "dumping" 11 young Rwandans along the common border of Rubavu after "beating and torturing them".
Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo accused some Congolese citizens, both at home and abroad, and media outlets that are close to the Kinshasa administration of instigating violence against Rwandans.
"This is very reminiscent of the rhetoric just before the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. Certainly Rwanda keeps a very close watch on that kind of pronouncements," she said.
"In our corner of the world, words quickly become deeds and anti-Rwanda rhetoric carries grave consequences...More hateful attacks can be feared as calls for Congolese worldwide to "kill the Tutsis" are being propagated over the internet," she told a news conference at the UN headquarters in New York.
Resentment towards Rwandans in DRC is thought to have worsened following the release of a provisional UN Experts report late last month, which linked Rwanda to the M23 rebels, but dismissed by Kigali as "one-sided" and lacking credible evidence.
Kinshasa also made similar allegations but was accused by Rwanda of sidestepping the ongoing bilateral diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the situation. Rwanda brokered the 2009 deal that had ushered in related peace in eastern DRC.
Meanwhile, the M23 rebels, yesterday, announced they had withdrawn from the eastern strategic town of Rutshuru and two other areas - Kiwanja and Rubare - only a day after taking them, without a fight.
Reports indicated that the rebels retreated as a sign of goodwill and were waiting for Kinshasa to respond to their call for peace talks.
The rebels, under the command of one Col. Sultani Makenga, accuse the government of reneging on the March 23, 2009 peace deal that had resulted in the integration of the then CNDP rebels into the national army.
They, however, warned the Congolese army against moving back into the three areas, saying that would "immediately and energetically repressed" by the rebels.
Last Friday, M23 overran the strategic town of Bunagana on the border with Uganda, sending about 600 Congolese troops across the Ugandan border.
The new conflict has reportedly displaced 200,000 people, with an estimated 70,000 crossing into Uganda and Rwanda