GOMA (Reuters) – Rebels from the M23 group have captured the town of Bunagana in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), local activists said on Monday, prompting the flight of 30,000 civilians to Uganda. neighbour.
The M23, known as the “March 23 Movement”, is a former Tutsi rebel movement from the eastern province of North Kivu defeated in 2013 by the DRC army following nearly two years of insurrection. Clashes with loyalist forces in North Kivu resumed several months ago.
The capture of Bunagana marks a setback for Congolese forces who on Sunday said they had “routed” the rebels.
Bunagana was an M23 stronghold during the insurgency in which Goma was overrun before Congolese and UN forces drove the rebels into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
Jean-Baptiste Twizere, president of a local civil society organization, said the town fell to rebels on Sunday night.
Edgard Mateso, vice president of a rights group in North Kivu province, confirmed the M23 takeover.
General Sylvain Ekenge, spokesman for the North Kivu military government, said he had no information yet.
“A DESPERATE SITUATION”
The fighting drove more than 30,000 Congolese civilians into Uganda on Monday, said Reuters Shaffiq Sekandi, district commissioner of Kisoro, Uganda.
“They are everywhere, the streets are crowded, others have gone to churches, they are under the trees, everywhere. It is a really desperate situation,” he said.
African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat has called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and talks between Congo and Rwanda to resolve a growing diplomatic crisis.
The Congolese authorities on Sunday again accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 assault.
Rwanda has denied any support for the rebels and has accused the DRC of collaborating with another militia founded by Hutus who fled Rwanda after participating in the 1994 genocide. The DRC denies these accusations.
On Monday, two Congolese security sources, who asked not to be named, also accused the Ugandan army of supporting the M23 offensive.
Jean-Baptiste Twizere said he saw Ugandan troops crossing the border to block the Congolese army Bunagana’s access.
Ugandan army spokesman Brigadier Felix Kulayigye denied any involvement.
(Report Djaffar Sabiti and Erika Mwisi, written by Sofia Christensen; French version Valentine Baldassari)