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DRC Tutsis Under Rebel Threat

FILE: A general view of the informal camp of Kanyaruchinya, in the northern district of Goma, on November 2, 2022 where tens of thousands of displaced people have taken refuge who fled the advance of the M23 (March 23 Movement) rebellion

Knife-edge tensions have escalated pressure on DRC Tutsis, whose history is contested in the central African nation. Many assume that Tutsis support the insurgent M23, for example, or perceive them as Rwandan implants rather than native Congolese.

Knife-edge tensions have escalated pressure on DRC Tutsis, whose history is contested in the central African nation.

The M23 insurgent group has advanced across North Kivu province in recent weeks, winning victories over the army as well as other militias and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee in its wake.

The Democratic Republic of Congo accuses its smaller neighbour Rwanda of backing the M23, something UN experts and US officials agree with - although Kigali denies it.

AFP interviewed six Congolese Tutsis who had recently arrived in Goma, mostly from Kitschanga in North Kivu's Masisi territory.

Five said they had fled death threats from militias.

"It hurts me," said the 55-year-old Tutsi woman, who explained that all her relatives were Congolese but her children were accused of being Rwandans at school.

"Our children ask us: What's Rwanda?"

The woman -- speaking in the Kinyarwanda language native to Rwandans as well as many Congolese Tutsis and Hutus -- said militiamen also looted her home after she fled.

"They say every Tutsi is an M23," she said. "It's terrible."

The M23 first leapt to international prominence in 2012 when it captured Goma, before being driven out and going to ground.

But the rebels took up arms again late last year, claiming the DRC had failed to honor a pledge to integrate them into the army.

They've since seized swaths of territory and come within about 12 kilometers of Goma, a key hub of over a million people.

The M23 advance has also driven a wave of virulent anti-Tutsi hate speech on social media, with calls for them to depart for Rwanda and worse.

In public statements, the M23 has frequently accused other armed groups as well as government forces of targeting Tutsis.

But Lieutenant-Colonel Guillaume Ndjike, the Congolese army spokesman in North Kivu, said soldiers have not attacked Tutsis and that the allegations are "excuses put forward by the Rwandan army".

M23 fighters have themselves committed alleged atrocities.

The rebels killed 131 civilians and raped 27 women and girls in two neighbouring villages in late November, according to a preliminary UN probe.

Congolese Tutsi leaders have also condemned the M23.

David Karambi, the president of a North Kivu Tutsi association, told reporters in December that recent massacres could not even be "committed by animals," for example.

Emmanuel Runigi Kamanzi, the president of a North Kivu livestock farmers' association, said his Tutsi ancestors arrived in the region in the middle ages.

"This is our home," he added, decrying extremist attitudes fanned by Mai-Mai militias and so-called Nyatura armed groups that claim to represent Congolese Hutus.

Many Congolese Tutsis interviewed by AFP said they felt unfairly blamed, and in danger.

In a Goma district where many Tutsis recently fled, a 27-year-old woman said Mai-Mai and Nyatura members had threatened "to kill us as they did to Tutsis in Rwanda".

"This war, it's to uproot us," she said, eyes downcast.