GOMA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO —
Two women traveling in a minibus were dragged out and burned by a mob this week in the town of Butembo in eastern Congo where other travelers have narrowly escaped lynching in the past week. Some observers say politicians are partly to blame for heightened community tensions in the DRC's North Kivu province.
The two women, both aged over 50, were the latest victims of a cycle of violence between the Nande and Hutu ethnic communities in North Kivu.
Butembo is an overwhelmingly Nande town, and recently the North Kivu parliament, dominated by Nande, passed an edict restricting travelers from the south, who are mainly Hutu, from entering the town. Vigilantes set up road blocks to intercept travelers they claim are suspect.
Kayindo Esperance, a student, was a passengers on the bus on Wednesday and saw what happened to the two women.
She said the men at the roadblock checked what the two women were carrying in their bundles and found machetes, then they told them to speak Kinande (the local language in Butembo) and they could not, so they decided they were Hutu.
She confirmed the two women were then burned to death.
The police tried to intervene, she says, but the population refused to listen to them.
The young vigilantes claimed they were trying to intercept terrorists of the ADF rebel group, who are blamed for massacring hundreds of people in Beni north of Butembo since 2014.
Congolese soldiers drag away a protester critical of the government's alleged inaction to address rising inter-ethnic tensions in the town of Butembo, in North Kivu province, DRC, Aug. 24, 2016.
The vice governor of North Kivu province Feller Lutahichirwa has spent the past few days in Butembo and told local radio this ethnic violence has claimed six lives in the city in the past week and several other people have been injured.
He said the crimes committed by these young people were the result of false information confusing the ADF terrorists with people migrating from the south of the province towards Ituri in the north.
Fifty-seven people have been arrested in connection with the violence in Butembo.
Strict justice will be meted out, he said, and meanwhile the governor's order restricting movement from the south will remain in force until the situation has calmed down.
Fazil Mugabo, a Hutu and activist with the UDC political party, told VOA this restriction on free movement is unconstitutional and is mainly targeting Kinyarwanda speakers.
People travelling from the south can't be at the root of these troubles, he said, they are just travelling on business. What's causing it is political manipulation, which has got to stop, he added.
The vigilantes in Butembo were out in force since last Sunday, in defiance of a curfew ordered by the governor. Charlene Soki, a young Nande, told VOA she saw them being 'mobilized' by a politician.
She said she saw a deputy, a member of the local parliament, telling young men to go into the streets at night. She doesn't know his name, she said, but she heard he was not from the ruling coalition, he was from the opposition.
Fazil Mugabo commented that as the time for elections draws near, certain politicians are playing the ethnic card to mobilize support.