Fighting between the rebel alliance of Red Tabara and Mai Mai and indigenous Banyamulenge forces is raging in Minembwe, South Kivu, leaving scores dead and hundreds displaced.
As of Monday morning, the rebels who are reportedly being helped by a regional force, were about 80 km from Minembwe Airport near the borders of Rwanda and Burundi.
Alexis Byicaza Sebatware, the Head of Innovative Forces for Union and Congolese Democracy, says the villages of Minembwe “have since been surrounded by the rebels of Red-Tabara, who already burned down several villages such as Rutigita, Masha, Kalongozi, Monyi and Kahwera.”
He said their objective appears to be capturing “Minembwe Airport to be able to receive military supplies to launch incursions into the state of Burundi.”
The distance from Minembwe to Gitega, Burundi is about 142 kms.
The Banyamulenge have for decades refused to cooperate with the Rwandan government of President Kagame.
They, instead, support Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza.
Byicaza on Monday told ChimpReports that the situation remained tense.
“Some of the rebels have withdrawn from their fighting positions but we understand they are mobilizing to fight again,” he revealed.
“Today, the fighting is in the area of Gipombo in Mulenge. Those who are surrounded Minembwe Airport were fought by Twirwaneho (local defence unit).”
Banyamulenge are ethnic Tutsis who moved to the region some 200 years ago.
Ever since the First Congo War of 1996-7, when Rwanda led an invasion of Mobutu Sese Seko’s Zaire, they have found themselves foreigners in their own country, accused by other residents of disloyalty.
During the conflict, as a UN report later documented, armed groups working with the Zairian national army massacred hundreds of Banyamulenge civilians.
DRC forces quiet
Several civil society group leaders in DRC told us that DRC forces continue to look on idly as rebels attack Banyamulenge.
The government military forces are stationed around the destroyed villages.
For example, there is an army position in Mikenge, Bukunji, Kipupu, Nyarurambi, Makutano and Bikuba which have since been attacked by rebels.
Field soldiers say they do not have any instructions to fight the rebels.
“We call upon to Banyamulenge soldiers who are in Government to withdraw their forces because Government is partnering with rebels to exterminate our people. This situation is not acceptable,” said an official who preferred anonymity to speak freely.
“We need the Great Lakes region to intervene in this matter because Government of President Felix Tshisekedi is looking on the Banyamulenge community are being exterminated.”
Since Saturday, September 7, the Mai-Mai have attacked, burned down at least 16 villages.
These include Linjanja, Lisansi, Bijanda, Ruvumera, Wimbogo, Tulambo, Marunde Rujanika, Marunde Mushambaro, Marunde Muzerwa, Rushasha, Nkango, Bakura, Kwa Kabemba, Murambi, Muranda, Malanda and Bikuba.
The people who lived in these villages fled in disarray to the forests.
The Banyamulenge say since January, more than 10,000 heads of cattle have been stolen by rebels.
The rebels are also accused of assassinating local leaders in Minembwe.