On May 29, six villages were burned to the ground in orchestrated, simultaneous attacks in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Among the villagers shot dead that day was a 29-year-old man, who was murdered in the village of Murabya.

Vincent Sematungo chants while marching along Park Avenue in Portland on May 14. The protest, organized by the Mahoro Peace Association, was held to bring attention to the plight of the Banyamulenge people, a minority tribe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who are being killed by other tribal militias. More than 300 Banyamulenge people who escaped the genocide live in Maine. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Why should this one young man’s violent death matter to people living half a world away in safe, peaceful Maine?

Because his parents, four siblings – one sister and three younger brothers – two uncles, 11 cousins and numerous distant relatives are all Mainers living and working in the Portland area. They pay local, state and federal taxes. Many of them are citizens. But they were born in Congo, and are from a minority tribe known as Banyamulenge, or “the people of Mulenge.”

And while the international media, as well as the Congolese media, remain silent, the Banyamulenge in Maine want everyone to know about the “slow, silent” genocide taking place against their people. The efforts at ethnic cleansing have been underway for four years, but the pace has picked up in recent months. The young man was a victim of ethnic cleansing. Genocide Watch has classified the ethnic cleansing of the Banyamulenge as a “genocide emergency.”

The young man’s death is not an isolated incident. Over the past four years, 95 percent of Banyamulenge villages have been burned to the ground and 90 percent of the livestock (on which the people depend for their livelihood) has been stolen. A coordinated campaign of widespread murder and rape has terrorized the region. This past spring, a Banyamulenge Mainer’s grandmother was burned to death in her home. She couldn’t run fast enough to get away.

In addition to the silence of the media, members of the Banyamulenge diaspora say that the Congolese government of Felix Tshisekedi, along with U.N. peacekeeping forces on the ground in the region where ethnic cleansing is taking place, and international powers, including the U.S., are ignoring their people’s desperate plight. They also say that international humanitarian assistance has not been provided to the refugees.

More than 300 Banyamulenge people live in Maine. Among these is Claude Rwaganje, Westbrook city councilor. He explained what it’s like to be a Banyamulenge Mainer at this time.

“Normally, we all are being productive, but we can’t concentrate – this issue of the genocide of our people is dominating our mind, posing stress, anxiety, pain, mourning. The community in Maine is affected. We want people to know that we are experiencing trauma because our people are affected. We are having trouble doing our jobs. We need support.”

On May 14, in an organized attempt to awaken the world and rally assistance, Banyamulenge protesters and their allies gathered and marched in cities around the world.

A protest was held in Portland, organized by the Mahoro Peace Association, which unites the U.S. Banyamulenge community. The event included a march that ended with the delivery of letters to the Maine delegation. Representatives of Mahoro have met with the Maine delegation in the past. Sen. Susan Collins has promised to urge the U.S. Committee on Foreign Relations to work actively for the protection of the Banyamulenge.

But members of Mahoro are not satisfied with the advocacy to date.

Rwaganje said, “We would like Mainers to call (Rep. Chellie) Pingree, Collins, (Sen. Angus) King – please tell them there is a silent genocide going on in Congo. Tell them to stop aid to Congo unless the killing stops. Tell them to issue travel bans and sanctions against leaders who participate in the crisis. We need help from Mainers, from our community. We need their support to raise awareness of what is going on to our people in DRC.”

Since May 29, the Banyamulenge community in Maine has suffered other heavy losses. Recently two young women who had made it to safety in Maine woke to news on their phones that their father had been murdered in cold blood. The community is in a state of continuous mourning and trauma.

Our neighbors need our support. Please call the Maine delegation.


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