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Uganda clashes as DR Congo's M23 ex-rebels refuse to go home

WORLD
By AFP | Dec 18th 2014 | 2 min read

Kampala: Democratic Republic of Congo's M23 ex-rebel leader said Tuesday that several members were wounded when Ugandan troops tried to forcibly return them home.

The rebels' 18-month war, during which they briefly seized the key town of Goma, capital of mineral-rich North Kivu province, was brought to an end a year ago by government troops and UN peacekeepers, with fighters fleeing into neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda.

They signed papers in May vowing not to fight again in return for a possible amnesty, and some 1,300 were based in a camp in the southwest of Uganda.

M23 president Bertrand Bisimwa said that his former fighters had fled their camp at Bihanga, some 380 kilometres (235 miles) southwest of the capital Kampala, after Ugandan army trucks arrived before dawn on Tuesday to take them to the airport.

"They refused to board the trucks," Bisimwa said, accusing Ugandan troops of firing shots at his men, saying some were wounded and "possibly dead."

A senior military source said that some M23 members had been wounded after the Ugandan army encountered "resistance".

Military reinforcements were deployed to Bihanga to "restore the situation" in the camp and to hunt down those fighters now "on the run," the official said.

Bisimwa said the operation to repatriate them was in "violation of the rules of international law" and went against a peace deal inked last year in Nairobi.

But Ugandan army spokesman Paddy Ankunda said that 120 out of a total of 1,373 "have so far expressed willingness to be repatriated" and would be sent off later Tuesday from Entebbe, the capital's airport.

"Other M23 members have reportedly gone to Rwamwanja refugee camp where they want UN to take full care of them," he said, referring to a camp in the southwest of Uganda, home to some 20,000 Congolese refugees.

M23 leaders last month warned they would fight again should agreements fail. The defeated rebels told AFP last month of mounting frustrations among the group's confined-to-camp fighters.

While the M23 were defeated, multiple armed groups still operate in a region that has been in conflict for the best part of the past two decades.

Much of the rebel activity consists of abuses against civilians and illegal exploitation of natural resources, be it metals, ivory or timber.

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