Congo fighting intensifies, shells land in Uganda

(FILES) This picture taken on November 30, 2012 shows M23 rebels withdrawing through the hills having left their position in the village of Karuba, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. AFP PHOTO/PHIL MOORE

KAMPALA, Uganda: Fighting between Congolese forces and M23 rebels intensified on Monday, forcing thousands more Congolese to seek refuge in Uganda, said Uganda's military and humanitarian workers.

Uganda deployed more troops and tanks near the border town once controlled by the rebels, Ugandan army spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda said Monday. He said they were "very concerned" after projectiles fired from Congo landed on Ugandan territory.

At least five people have been wounded in Uganda in the past week since Congolese forces intensified their assault on the rebels, Ankunda said. Congolese government troops on Wednesday retook Bunagana town, M23's last stronghold, but some of the rebels are believed to be hiding in the surrounding bush.

"We have raised this issue with the Congolese government," Ankunda said, talking about projectiles fired from Congo. "We are very concerned about this because this is not the first time."

Lucy Beck, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency in Uganda, said the Bunagana border area had become "too dangerous" for refugees and humanitarian workers, who had to relocate deeper into Ugandan territory. Some Congolese who had returned home last week after a brief lull in fighting have since crossed back to Uganda following clashes late Sunday, she said. More than 10,000 Congolese have fled to Uganda since last week.

"We left because of the shelling," she said.

M23's civilian leader, Bertrand Bisimwa, on Sunday called for a cease-fire.

Peace talks in Uganda between the rebels and Congo's government have repeatedly stalled since December.

A group of international envoys to Africa's Great Lakes region has urged a political solution to the conflict. The group, which includes U.S. envoy Russ Feingold, urged the Congolese government to "restrain from further military action at this stage." The envoys also urged M23 to renounce its rebellion, according to a joint statement released Monday.

M23 launched its movement in April 2012, becoming the latest reincarnation of an ethnic Tutsi rebel group dissatisfied with the Congolese government. A report by U.N. experts has said neighboring Rwanda, whose president is also an ethnic Tutsi, provided weapons, recruits and training to M23 rebels. Rwanda's government denies the allegations, saying Congo's government has failed to police its territory.

M23 has been substantially weakened in the past year by internal divisions and waning Rwandan support, according to the U.N. Defections from the M23 are up this month, totaling 80 in October. Thirty-three surrendered alone on Tuesday, according to chief U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky.

The Congolese military has capitalized on these rebel setbacks by pushing ahead with new offensives beginning in August that have been supported by a brigade of U.N. forces with a mandate to attack the rebels.





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