GOMA, Congo (AP) — Residents of eastern Congo’s largest city launched violent protests Monday amid fears that police from neighboring Rwanda had entered the country, leaving at least four people dead, authorities said.
Gunfire rang out across Goma, a city of 2 million near the Rwandan border, and demonstrators later put up barricades in several areas.
Three police officers and one protester died amid the unrest, according to Gen. Sylvain Ekenge, spokesman for the military governor of North Kivu province. Seventeen other people were seriously injured, he said.
Congo’s relations with Rwanda have been fraught over the past 30 years, with Rwanda accusing Congo of giving shelter to ethnic Hutus responsible for carrying out the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Rwanda was later among the neighboring countries that invaded Congo during its back-to-back civil wars, and in the years since the two countries have accused each other of supporting opposing armed militias.
The latest anti-Rwandan sentiment in eastern Congo was sparked by a memorandum of bilateral cooperation signed a week ago, which authorities say is aimed at combating cross-border crime.
Many Goma residents view the agreement with suspicion, fearing it could lead to Rwanda annexing portions of eastern Congo.
“We do not want Rwandans in our country,” protester Tommy Mashauri said.
The commissioner general of the Congolese national police told reporters over the weekend there are no Rwandan police officers inside Congo, and authorities maintained Monday there were no such plans in motion.
“This Rwandan police presence in Goma exists only in the imagination of the salesmen of illusions and the manipulators, as well as people of bad faith, who are ready to jump on any rumor to cause disorder,” said Ekenge, the spokesperson for the military governor.
Associated Press writer Jean Yves Kamale in Kinshasa, Congo contributed.