1 March 2017

Congo-Kinshasa: Civilians Fleeing Eastern DR Congo Clashes

Photo: Photo MONUSCO/Abel Kavanagh
Police in Goma, Nord Kivu

A fresh refugee crisis could erupt in the Great Lakes Region as clashes between Democratic Republic of Congo government forces and suspected rebels herald renewed fighting in the troubled eastern part of the country.

There have been noticeable movements of people from DR Congo into Uganda and Rwanda, with many fearing that fighting will escalate. Uganda's Daily Monitor reported last week that at least 30 refugees enter Uganda daily from DR Congo, fleeing clashes between armed militias and the Congolese army.

An official of the Red Cross in Rwanda told The EastAfrican that it is anticipating more people will be fleeing eastern DRC as tensions increase. At least 10 to 15 people are received at the Rwandan border daily, officials said.

The situation is eastern DR Congo changed in January when hundreds of former M23 rebels escaped from their cantonment camp in western Uganda and entered DRC. Over 1,300 former M23 combatants were cantoned in Bihanga Military Barracks, 300km west of Kampala, following their defeat by a joint force of DRC government forces and a United Nations intervention brigade.

Kinshasa then warned that the M23 rebels who had escaped from their camps were regrouping. Earlier this month, the former top commanders of the rebel group including Col Sultani Makenga and former spokesperson Jean Marie Vianney Kazarama went missing from Uganda. The two, who were not under arrest, are suspected to be back in DRC, along with hundreds of former members of the group.

The DR Congo army, FARDC, said on Thursday, February 23 that it had killed at least 16 people linked to the resurgent M23 rebel group at the confluence of the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda borders. Congolese military spokesperson Maj Ndjike Kaiko said the 16 were killed when government forces pursued the rebels who had re-entered the country from Uganda.

"We are looking for the fleeing M23 fighters who are currently seeking to infiltrate Virunga National Park," Maj Ndjike said.

At least 100 people are reported to have died by the end of last week in clashes between DRC government forces and militias in the east of the country, as general unrest continues to grip the country amid a political crisis triggered by President Joseph Kabila's refusal to hold elections. According to the United Nations, at least 39 women were among those killed during the fighting between February 9 and 13.

Reports show that 40 militants escaping fighting in eastern DRC entered Uganda and were in UPDF custody. UPDF Second Division spokesperson Capt Arthur Timbaganya, first denied the reports, but on Thursday, Brig Richard Karemire, the military spokesperson, said that over 40 combatants were being held at a camp in the southwestern district of Kisoro.

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