BUKAVU - During the occupation of the Congolese city of Goma by the M23 rebels last month, the nearby border with Rwanda remained open, and daily exchanges between the two central African neighbors continued as usual.

"We have no problem with the Rwandans as people. They are our brothers, our neighbors," explains a Congolese teacher working in Rwanda who continued to cross the border every day from the city of Bukavu.

"There are some Rwandans who bear a grudge against our country, but we should not generalize," adds Guy-Noël, a humanitarian activist from Bukavu. "We are and will remain neighbors forever. As there are Rwandans working here, some of our fellow citizens live and work in Rwanda. There is no need in being suspicious of one another."

"The problem is not between two peoples. Politicians should settle their disagreements," says a young man, set to cross the gate at the border with his friends to have drinks at La Petite Colline – a bar in Kamembe, Rwanda, the terrace of which is a popular spot for youths from Bukavu.

War crimes

Most of the resentment here is saved for the armed rebels of the M23 movement, who some fear might commit the same abuses that Laurent Nkunda's troops committed when they invaded the city in June 2004. The Rwanda-backed rebel forces of the Rally for Congolese Democracy led by Nkunda and opposed to President Kabila are accused of committing war crimes while occupying the city.

"The problem with the M23 is that they have taken up arms. We don’t want any new war," says a teacher from Bukavu. "We, teachers, are very unhappy. We have been ignored for many years. Shall we too take up arms to be heard?"

Here along the border, though, there is particular attention to accusations that the movement might be nothing more than the puppet of neighboring countries such as Rwanda or Uganda.

"The M23 is welcome if it is here to kick the [Congolese] president out, because we can’t stand him anymore," says one young unemployed graduate. "But if it is here to help Rwanda conquer our region, then we’ll be standing in their way."

Two weeks after the rebels briefly held control of the important regional hub of Goma, fear still lingers. "They withdrew from Goma but they are only 20 kilometers away now," says Kimengele Uledi, a university professor. "They could come back anytime and we might not be spared this time."