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Bunagana Authorities Stuck as More Congolese Refugees Pour Into Uganda

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Baraka Muneza, a Congolese refugee says that when they heard heavy gun shelling, they feared and fled to the Ugandan side of Bunagana. Muneza says that their interest is not to proceed to Nyakabande transit camp but to see their cradle land peaceful so that they cross back.
Some of the congolese refugees stuck at Bunagana border

Audio 5

Thousands of Congolese refugees have poured into Bunagana town council in Kisoro districts following renewed clashes between the March 23 Movement (M23) rebels and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) troops backed by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).  

The fighting erupted around 6 am on Monday in Jomba groupment, Rutshuru territory, North Kivu province. Fighting occurred exactly in the hills overlooking Bunagana, towards the locality of Ruginga, southeast of Bunagana, on the border between DRC and Uganda. Locals on the Ugandan side also heard explosions of heavy and light weapons.  

Fighting also occurred on Sunday. The fighting forced civilians to flee to the Ugandan side of Bunagana. Ismail Ndayambaje, the LC III Chairperson of the Bunagana town council, says that more than 4000 Congolese are currently in Bunagana town council. He says that the refugees are staying on verandahs, and Bunagana market and are also attempting to occupy the schools again.

Ndayambaje says that as authorities, they are stuck on how to handle the situation, since they are yet to recover from the damage caused by the refugees during the March 28, 2022 fighting. According to Ndayambaje, they struggling to provide water, food, and accommodation to the refugees. 

//Cue in: “since morning at…

Cue out:…empty stomach,”//

Ndayambaje also says that as authorities they are stuck on how to help students who fled from the senior six national exams and crossed to Uganda on Monday afternoon because of the intense fighting. He requests the Congolese government to liaise with Ugandan authorities so that the affected students sit their exams from the Ugandan side since the situation in Rutshuru is very tense.

//Cue in: “you know it…

Cue out:  …be helped,”//

Baraka Muneza, a Congolese refugee says that when they heard heavy gun shelling, they feared and fled to the Ugandan side of Bunagana.  Muneza says that their interest is not to proceed to Nyakabande transit camp but to see their cradle land peaceful so that they cross back.

//Cue in: “we are in Uganda…

Cue out: …they fear,”//

Innocent Ninyezimana, another affected Congolese refugee, says that they were advised by Congolese soldiers to flee the area to pave way for soldiers to face off with rebels. He says that Congolese soldiers were using both land and air to shell the rebel positions. Ninzeyimana says that he fled the war zone and is uncertain whether his mother his parents, wife, and children are still alive.

//Cue in: “tubade Congo kati…

Cue out: …tufune omutekano,”//

Shukuru Stephen Habyarimana and Sean Paul Munyaneza, both students narrate that they were sitting in an examination room as fighting. went on. They say that during afternoon hours, they gave up and took off with examination papers to Uganda when the gunfire intensified.  The fighting affected more than 400 students in the area.  

//Cue in: “habayeyo intambala amasasi… 

Cue out:…how much,”//

Phillippe Kuessan-San Creppy, the United Nations High Commission Assistant Representative Operations in Uganda, says that the fresh situation at the Bunagana border is an indication that Uganda needs a lot of support to handle the ever-rising number of refugees in the country.

//’’Cue in: “Uganda was very…

Cue out: …ninety thousand.”//

Meanwhile, seven people including three civilians and four FARDC soldiers were rushed to an unidentified Ugandan health facility with gunshot injuries. According to a security source, the causalities were ferried into Uganda under tight security.  

There is heavy security deployment at the Uganda border. Security has since stopped traffic to DRC.  A statement by MONUSCO indicates that it acted in self-defense against the M23 attack in the Shangi area. According to MONUSCO, five rebels were killed and several AK47 rifles and unspecified ammunition were recovered during fighting since early Monday.  

“MONUSCO Force retaliated in self-defense against the M23 attack. The Force troops deployed in the CHANGI area compelled the militants to withdraw as a result of #MonuscoF sustained fire.5 militants were killed, and several AK-47 Weapons and bulk of ammunition recovered,” MONUSCO argues in a tweet.

The Congolese army spokesperson for Sokola 2, Lieutenant-Colonel Guillaume Njike indicates that the army has gained an ascendancy over the rebels. He says that the situation remains under FARDC control on the Rutshuru-Bunagana axis. But, there is currently no report, on the situation of the hills of Tchanzu and Runyon that were previously occupied by the M23 rebels. 

M23 through their spokesperson, Major Willy Ngoma strongly denies any attack against MONUSCO peacekeepers. Ngoma accused MONUSCO of openly announcing a coalition with FARDC and other militia groups to fight the M23. Ngoma wonders why MONUSCO is not focusing on the rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and Cooperative for Development of the Congo rebels. He insists that the M23 rather die from MONUSCO bombardments than the Sword of FARDC.

“The M23 has never attacked nor planned to attack MONUSCO, but it is currently under a large MONUSCO military offensive. The M23 many times had opportunities to gain more territories from FARDC but has never done so because it sticks to the sole demand on the implementation of the Nairobi agreements.  If our position is considered naïve and weak and for these reasons that MONUSCO wants to physically erase us, swiftly as the ADF and CODELCO and it chooses the FDRL, APCLS, and the Nyatura coalition as allies in this war, we prefer to die from these MONUSCO bombardments than from the swords of FDLR, APCLS, Nyatura, and others because history will recall this gesture of the United Nations” says M23 rebels in a statement.

So far more than 20,000 Congolese refugees have been registered at the Nyakabande transit center in Kisoro since the fighting started on March 28. More than 4000 have been transferred to the Nakivale refugee camp.