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Thousands Flee DRC for Uganda Amid Rebel Group Clashes


FILE - Neema, a DRC refugee says in the absence of WFP food aid she feels her family of 8 children is buried alive. (Lameck Masina/VOA)

Clashes along the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern border have sent thousands of people fleeing into Uganda. Ugandan forces have deployed along the border after reports that M23 rebels attacked military positions Sunday night.

Sounding exhausted and desperate, Anglique Wabareka tells VOA on the phone she spent the night on the run after clashes between rebel forces broke out in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Pitching camp at a police post across the Ugandan border, Wabareka says she was able to escape with her three children.

"I entered the house to get my children something to eat. That's when I heard gunshots and we started to run. People are dying. I couldn’t carry any belongings because of the heavy gunfire," she said.

Mumbere Habimana says many people were injured in the fighting. He says he saw one person get killed.

"There’s heavy fighting," he says. "We are fleeing but we don’t even know who is making us flee. I left my house with nothing. I don’t even have money. And now I don’t even know where I’m going to stay."

Natukunda Primrose, Kisoro district manager for the Ugandan Red Cross, says the number of people who’ve crossed into Uganda has surpassed 10,000.

"Most of them are still at the border. Then just a few are at the transit center," Natukunda said. "Right now, we are passing on messages to them, for those who are ready to go to the transit center.”

In a statement to journalists, a spokesman for the governor of North Kivu province said that on the nights of March 27 and 28, M23 rebels, supported by Rwandan soldiers, carried out incursions and attacks against positions of the Congolese army in the towns of Tchanzu and Runyonyi.

The spokesman, General Ekenge Sylain, said that during those attacks, DRC forces arrested two Rwandan soldiers, identified as Warrant Officer Habyarimana Jean-Pierre and Uwajeneza Muhidi John, who said they belong to the 65th Battalion of the 402nd Brigade of the Rwanda Defense Forces.

Rwandan forces have long been present in the eastern DRC, fighting Rwandan rebel groups based in the region.

Ekenge said the army would take all measures to quickly restore authority and peace in the affected areas.

In Kampala, Ugandan Army spokesman Brigadier General Felix Kulaigye said Ugandan forces have deployed heavily to ensure the fighting does not spill across the border.

“Of course, the porous border we can’t man, man to man," Kulaigye said. "But it is well catered for and we are sure that there will not be infiltration this side of the border.”

In December, thousands of Congolese fled into Uganda to escape fighting in Ituri province, but were asked by authorities to return home after the situation was brought under control.

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