KINSHASA: Tens of thousands of Christians took to the streets across the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday December 4 to protest violence in eastern regions, as church leaders accused the international community of hypocrisy over Rwanda's alleged role in the fighting.
After Sunday services, churchgoers in the capital Kinshasa and other major cities heeded a call from the conference of Catholic bishops to march against the M 23 rebel group, which Congo accuses Rwanda of supporting.
Blaise Emmanuel, vicar at St Elizabeth's parish, led a procession to Montgafula, one of the poorest communes in Kinshasa, said we say no to war, no to a divided Congo.
The mass protests were the most significant since the escalation of fighting between state forces and M 23 in recent months. The violence has displaced 390,000 people, according to the UN agency OCHA.
Demonstrators in Kinshasa sang and carried banners reading: No to balkanisation, no to the hypocrisy of the international community. Many in Congo have accused the West of failing to hold Rwanda accountable for its role in stoking insecurity in the east for years.
In November, the European Parliament called for Rwanda not to support the M 23 rebels. Last week, the European Commission was criticised in Congo for giving $20 million US $21 million to Rwandan troops to fight Islamist insurgents in Mozambique.
At the end of the march in Montgafula, protesters sang the national anthem and a priest holding a Congolese flag climbed onto a chair to address the crowd.
Father Theophile Landu said that Rwanda is the country that is fighting us. The United States and the European Union are behind it. We tell them that they must stop the hypocrisy. In August, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Rwanda continued to support M 23 despite UN experts' claims that Rwanda's government has disputed the findings.
Anti-Western sentiments were aired in other cities in protests in which high-profile attendees included the head of the Senate, several ministers, and lawmakers from the ruling party and the opposition.
In late November, both Congo and Rwanda took part in talks aimed at finding solutions to the conflict. Other negotiations are ongoing, led by the seven-member East African Community EAC.