Refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo currently camping at Bunagana Town Council in Kisoro District have been given a two-day ultimatum to either enter the gazetted refugee transit centre in Nyakabande sub-county or cross back to their country.
Records from the office of the Kisoro Resident District Commissioner indicate that about 30,000 refugees crossed to Uganda on Monday morning, following heavy fighting between the M23 rebels and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) in Rutshuru Territory, North Kivu province.
During the fighting, four M23 rebels and two FARDC soldiers were killed in Murujinga and Mukiharo-Bunagana, and about 10 rebels were captured, according to a security source in Rutshuru.
A United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) helicopter was also shot down on Tuesday while carrying out a reconnaissance mission in the area of Tchanzu and Runyoni, killing the eight people on board.
After the incident, the DRC government through General Sylvain Ekenge, the spokesman for the Governor of North Kivu, accused the M23 rebels of shooting down the helicopter.
But, M23 through its spokesperson, Major Willy Mpoma, rejected the accusations.
Mpoma said that the helicopter was instead shot down by FARDC troops from Rumangabo military base in Rutshuru Territory, 3.5 kilometres north of the headquarters of Virunga National Park.
Mpoma explained that FARDC used a 122mm Rocket Launcher System (BM) to shoot down the helicopter.
Despite the tension and counteraccusations, there has been a silence of gun sounds in the hills of Murujinga and Mukiharo-Bunagana since Tuesday.
As a result, on Thursday evening, Ugandan DRC security officials held a closed-door meeting at the Bunagana border to discuss the current situation and ways of pacifying the areas under conflict.
Captain Peter Mugisha, the outgoing Kisoro Resident District Commissioner told our reporter that during the meeting, the DRC authorities assured them that the area is now safe and refugees can cross back to their homes.
Mugisha says that the meeting resolved that refugees should voluntarily cross back to their country in the next two days or they go to the gazetted refugees transit site Nyakabande.
Douglas Asiimwe, Uganda’s Acting Commissioner for Refugees in the Office of the Prime Minister says that despite the appeals to refugees to go to Nyakabande, many are still camped at Bunagana market, Bunagana Primary School along Bunagana-Kisoro Road, and on verandas.
A few others are in the homes of their relatives while those with money have hired lodges.
He says that so far, only 2500 refugees have been registered at Nyakabande Refugees’ Reception Centre while the majority remain at Bunagana/Cue in; “thousands o
But even after the announcement, hundreds of refugees were seen crossing back to DRC only to pick food from the gardens and return to Uganda. Butiiti Ndabarinzi, one of the refugees told our reporter that he risked crossing to Tchanzu to get food from his garden and save his children from hunger because he had no money and was not getting any assistance.
Hakiza Munyangeyo, a resident of Kasiza village in Rutchuru says that even after risking to cross back, all his food had been harvested from the garden by unknown people, adding that after that experience, he would rather stay in Bunagana since he still has information that the rebels are still hiding in the bush not very far from his village.
He also says that the current silence of the gun is not giving them proper assurance that their security is fully guaranteed.
Nshimiye Inosa and Imerida Maniriho from Tchanzu village who were found stranded at Bunagana Primary School told URN that they are not ready to return to Congo but called for help to deal with the water and food crisis they are facing at the border.
Asiimwe insists that their stay at Bunagana is inconveniencing locals and compromising security.
He says it is not possible to provide food and other services to people who are scattered and not documented, adding that once they refuse to adhere to the announcement, security will intervene.
The security situation remains unpredictable in Rutshuru, according to civil society organisations operating in the area.
Although an apparent lull has been observed since Wednesday, customary actors and civil society in Rutshuru fear the imminent resumption of fighting between the two belligerents who are each consolidating their positions