Portland protest march calls attention to plight of Congolese minority

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May 14—About 100 people took to the streets of Portland Friday in a protest march calling attention to the plight of the Banyamulenge people, a minority tribe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

More than 300 Banyamulenge have resettled in Maine to escape "a silent genocide little noticed by the outside world," according to a statement from the Mahoro Peace Association that helped to organize the peaceful protest. "They live in sorrow and dread because of the ongoing genocide against their relatives back home," the association said.

Chanting "Take Action" and carrying signs saying "Stop Killing Us," the protesters left Monument Square around 11:30 a.m. and marched down Elm Street, Park Avenue, Forest Avenue, Congress Street and back to the square. They also delivered letters seeking help to the offices of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, Republican, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, Democrat.

Militia groups and others in the central African country have targeted the Banyamulenge as part of a long-running territorial dispute, according to Genocide Watch, an international group that has warned about the potential for genocide amid the escalating conflict.

The organizers of the protest Friday said the groups have wiped out villages, attacked women and children and stolen livestock, which has led to starvation and death.

"The Banyamulenge are being killed because of who they are, not because of anything they have done," the association said. "We have a moral obligation as citizens of the world to stand with this minority group and say never again to genocide. The situation is dire, and the time to act is now."

The protesters hoped to raise awareness and enlist support from Collins and Pingree in demanding immediate action from the Congolese government and the international community to stop the violence and uprooting of the Banyamulenge people.

Collins plans to meet with protest leaders next week, as she did last year, said spokesman Christopher Knight. Back then, she sent a letter to State Department leaders urging them to "advocate for the protection of the Banyamulenge ethnic minority in the DRC and make every possible effort to end their persecution and prevent a genocide," Knight said. "Senator Collins will continue to support efforts to halt the ongoing violence in the region, bring the perpetrators to justice, and provide humanitarian assistance for the Banyamulenge and other groups in the region."

Pingree posted photos and videos of Friday's protest on her social media sites, "so that no can say that they didn't know about this genocide," said spokeswoman Victoria Bonney. She also shared a link to an April 9 statement by the international diplomatic community condemning "the violence and murders committed by armed groups in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly the recent wave of atrocities by the Allied Democratic Forces in North Kivu and Ituri."