NYAKABANDE, UGANDA — The United Nations says some 10,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo have crossed into Uganda since Sunday, fleeing renewed fighting between the army and the M23 rebels.
Many have crossed from Bunagana, the Congolese town in Rutshuru territory where the M23 had its headquarters. The rebels withdrew from Bunagana last week, as they also withdrew from most of the other towns they were holding, without putting up much of a fight.
More fighting flared Monday in the area.
The U.N. refugee agency says some civilians returned to Bunagana over the weekend, but have had to flee again.
Lucy Beck is the agency’s spokesperson in southwestern Uganda. "We believe probably over 10,000 people have crossed. What we’ve done is we’ve transferred nearly 4,000 people to the transit center. So at the moment in our Nyakabande transit center we have around 4,000 refugees," she said.
The agency is racing to move refugees to the transit center to get them to shelter, and out of harm's way, as some missiles have been falling just inside the Ugandan border.
The agency says its biggest challenge so far has been providing enough shelter from the rain and cold in this upland area. It says the World Food Program is sending more food, but there also is a shortage of drugs at the local health center.
One of the refugees, Innocent Nyonzima, said in an interview with VOA that he was glad about the Congolese army’s successes, but he was not confident the war was finally over.
He said he and the other refugees are proud of the Congolese army’s victory, because they are tired of war. He added that there has been conflict for 22 or 23 years, and they had worried that even their children would never see peace.
The M23 issued a statement declaring a cease-fire Sunday but the government said a cease-fire was not enough and the rebels must lay down their arms. M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa has responded that they cannot disarm without a resolution to the concerns for which they began fighting.