M23 rebels based in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have seized a trading hub on the border with Uganda, according to local sources.
The rebel fighters seized the crucial trading hub of Bunagana in North Kivu province, forcing government forces, some cocktail of soldiers and police to retreat into Uganda.
The DRC government has reiterated that Rwanda backs the rebels, with General Sylvain Ekenge, spokesman for the province’s military government, saying Rwanda was seeking to “asphyxiate” Goma, the capital of North Kivu, and to put pressure on the government in Kinshasa.
“In their assault on Bunagana, the M23 were supported by soldiers and artillery from the Rwandan army,” the DRC army said in a statement, adding that two soldiers and several enemy combatants were killed.
DRC also accused Rwanda of firing two rockets into its territory on Friday.
However, Kigali has relentlessly denied any wrong doing, and on several occasions voiced its lack of interest in getting involved in an internal matter for the DRC.
Ugandan officials said that fighting was on the DRC side of Bunagana town and that the Ugandan side was safe.
“We have information that the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in Bunangana is under the control of M23 rebels, but the security situation on the Ugandan side is very normal,” said Fred Enanga, Uganda police spokesperson.
Brigadier General Felix Kulayigye, the spokesperson for the UPDF disclosed to BBC yesterday evening that a total of 130 Congolese soldiers and 37 policemen have been received by the Ugandan side, after retreating from the war theatre in Bunagana.
“We have received 130 Congolese soldiers we received them with their arms and they were disarmed. In addition, we received 37 Congolese policemen who also ran away from the fighting and we are keeping them on the Ugandan side, waiting for the situation to improve the other side,” said Gen. Kulayigye.
A certain Congolese army officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Bunagana town was captured on Monday morning after an intense battle between the rebels and government soldiers. “Bunagana is under enemy control,” he said.
“The army has just given way and is heading into Uganda,” said Damien Sebusanane, head of a local civil society association, who was on the Ugandan side of the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
A humanitarian source on the ground said that heavy clashes broke out again on Sunday morning and the only way out for the embattled DRC troops was to cross into Uganda.
The M23 rebel movement based in Goma, primarily Congolese Tutsi militia, is one of more than 120 armed groups active in eastern DRC.
It was formed in April 2012, by disgruntled army officers within the CNDP, which itself was a rebel group fighting the government of Joseph Kabila.
However, in March 2013, the United Nations in partnership with the DRC government created the Force Intervention Bregade (FIB), which difeated the rebel group in November the same year.
The remnants however reunited and resumed fighting in November last year, after accusing the Congolese government of failing to respect a 2009 agreement under which the army was to incorporate its fighters.
The UN estimates that over 72000 people have been displaced in North Kivu, since Congolese government soldiers started battling the militant group in November 2012.
Do you have a story in your community or an opinion to share with us: Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org