14 November 2012

Uganda: Govt Closes Border Post With DRC Over M23 Toll Charges

Photo: HRW
Armed M23 rebels

Uganda on Tuesday sealed its Bunagana border post with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Kisoro district over claims that M23 rebels in the eastern DRC were using it to finance their activities.

The rebels were allegedly taxing trucks from Uganda and using the areas of Bunagana and Rutshuru that are under their control to get revenue.

The announcement was made by the Ugandan People's Defence Forces (UPD) Second Division commander Brigadier Patrick yesterday at a meeting with Kisoro district security committee.

Army spokesperson Colonel Felix Kulayige confirmed the development.

"It's true we have temporarily closed the border on the request of Kinshasa government because the M23 rebels had started collecting money from the trucks carrying goods from Uganda to Democratic Republic of Congo," he said.

President Yoweri Museveni, who is on a state visit to Sri Lanka, ordered the closure of the border, he said.

Kulaigye said this is bad news for Uganda as the country will lose hundreds of millions because trade between the two nations along the border is suspended. It will also affect Ugandans involved in small businesses in the area.

The closure of this border comes two months after a leaked UN report accused Uganda and Rwanda of aiding M23 rebels in eastern DRC. The two nations have since denied any wrongdoing.

The authorities say the border post was benefitting the rebels, who have changed their name to the Congolese Revolutionary Army, fighting President Joseph Kabila's government in eastern DRC.

Kisoro resident district commissioner Ahmed Doka on Tuesday said Uganda's immigration and customs office at Bunagana border post accessing North Kivu region has not been operational.

"Uganda was allowing people to cross to Congo without paying visa fees. But in Congo, the M23 group charges visa fees and taxes for movement of persons, vehicles and goods ferried across. This means that M23 were earning revenue because of our open border. To remove suspicion, the government has decided to close the border," Doka said.

Other sources say the development followed Kinshasa government's request to Uganda to close the border post, which, they said, was being used by the rebels to raise money through taxes.

UPDF's 63rd Battalion under the command of Major John Mukasa has since taken over security along Uganda's border with Congo. Until the situation returns to normal, Uganda has temporarily closed the south-western border with Congo.

UPDF have been deployed at the south-western Bunagana border in Kisoro district until the DRC situation improves.

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