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Uganda admits scores of Congolese M23 rebels escaped base

Outgoing UPDF spokesman Ankunda explains how some M23 fighters were intercepted.

Kampala, Uganda | AFP | 

Uganda’s government said Thursday that 40 Congolese rebels quartered at a Ugandan military base since 2014 have disappeared, while more than 100 were caught trying to cross into the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Congolese government said Sunday that at least 200 former members of M23, a mostly ethnic Tutsi rebel group which fled the country after being defeated by its army, had arrived from Uganda and occupied a village in North Kivu province.

Uganda’s military earlier this week denied any rebels had absconded from the Bihanga army camp, 320 kilometres (190 miles) west of the capital Kampala.

However, the government said in a statement that some rebels “were stealthily leaving their gazetted place of abode”, but “their whereabouts are unknown”.

“Last night, the Uganda security intercepted four vehicles at Mbarara that were carrying 101 former M23 combatants who were travelling on their way to Democratic Republic of Congo,” said government spokesman Ofwono Opondo in a statement.

“These 101 were following an earlier group of 40 that were discovered to have escaped seven days ago.”

It is unclear when Ugandan authorities noticed their absence.

In 2012 former members of a Tutsi militia who had integrated in the Congolese army mutinied, claiming that a 2009 peace deal had not been respected.

The Rwanda-backed M23 rebels wreaked havoc in the east, even managing to briefly seize the regional capital Goma in November 2012.

A year later they were defeated and forced out of the country by a joint UN and Congolese army offensive.

Hundreds of fighters fled to Uganda where they were given shelter under an agreement signed between Kampala and Kinshasa.

Opondo said 270 former rebels were still “cantoned” at Bihanga and denied any Ugandan involvement in the escapes and disappearances.

The government’s statement added that Uganda does not support any armed activities to destabilise neighbouring DR Congo.

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