PORTLAND — The slaughter of civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo this month is having repercussions in Portland and around the U.S. as the victims’ families and friends struggle to come to grips with what has become known as the Fizi Massacre.

Memorial services were held Sunday in Portland and around the world for seven humanitarian aid workers who were tortured and killed by rebels in the Congolese province of South Kivu earlier this month.

All of those killed were members of the Tutsi, or Banyamulenge, a tribe that has a strong presence in Maine.

Members of the local Tutsi community say about 200 tribe members live in the state.

More than 200 people gathered Sunday night at the St. Pius X Parish Hall on Ocean Avenue in Portland. They mourned their loss, and also used the event to call on the international community to intervene in what Tutsi tribe members say is becoming an intolerable situation in their homeland.

“We come together today filled with great sorrow for the seven workers, who were selectively massacred at the side of the road,” said Olivier Mandevu. He described each victim’s background and noted that nearly all of them, including one woman, left behind spouses and children.

Mandevu, who has friends and family in Portland and traveled from Albany, N.Y., to attend the service, said the victims were selected to be killed for one reason – that they were members of the Tutsi tribe.

The massacre is the most recent act of brutality against the Banyamulenge, violence that tribe members say has been escalating for decades.

Pastor Ruben Ruganza of Portland said the Congo is no longer safe for civilians. He said that in recent years, more than 5 million people have been killed with little or no government protection.

“We call upon the international community and the United States government to make sure these people (the rebels) are brought to justice. It’s the only way to protect the living,” Ruganza said.

On Oct. 4, a vehicle carrying 14 passengers associated with the British charity organization Children in Crisis and the Congolese nonprofit Eben Ezer Ministry were ambushed en route to the town of Minembwe in the Congo. Four people who were not members of the Tutsi tribe were released, and three Tutsi escaped. The remaining seven Tutsi were tortured, then killed with guns and machetes by a rebel group known as the Mai Mai Yakutumba.

Among those in mourning Sunday was Georges Budagu of Portland.

Budagu, who served as master of ceremonies at Sunday’s memorial service, said his older brother, Eraste Rwatangabo, was among the seven Tutsi who were tortured and murdered.

Rwatangabo, who was 46, leaves behind six children. He was an educator working for Children in Crisis, an organization that tries to improve the lives of children affected by conflict and poverty by providing them with education and health care.

According to the Children in Crisis website, Rwatangabo was “the moving force” behind an educational program that reached more than 30,000 children in the remote plateau region of South Kivu.

The massacre took place in an area of South Kivu known as Fizi.

Budagu said a half-dozen Tutsi families in Portland were affected by the massacre.

“(Rwatangabo) was more than just a brother to me. He was a friend,” Budagu said before Sunday’s memorial service began. “It was a horrible experience to learn of his death. I had to stay home for six days because I was completely discouraged.”

The Banyamulenge are Congolese of Rwandan origin, who have lived in the mountains of South Kivu for more than 300 years. They say they have been persecuted since the Congo was colonized in the late 1800s.

“It’s hard to explain the hate,” Budagu said.

“This is our cry for help,” Pastor Ruganza told the audience during the memorial service, which included songs of praise and worship. “Five million people dead, but no one talks about it.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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