M23 rebels allow congolese refugees in Bunagana cross to DRC

The March 23 Movement (M23) rebels have started allowing Congolese refugees who are stuck at Bunagana in Bunagana town council in Kisoro district to start returning home under strict conditions.

 The rebels took over the border inside the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on June 13th, 2022 after defeating government troops following renewed clashes that broke out on March 28th. 

Thousands of Congolese civilians fleeing the clashes crossed to Kisoro district in Uganda. 

Records from the district show that more than 30,000 Congolese refugees have pitched camp in Bunagana town council.

However, on Monday, the rebels manning the border started allowing the refugees to return to their homes. 

The rebel spokesperson, Major Willy Ngoma, said in a statement both in French and Swahili that civilians are now free to cross back to their areas because M23 has the capacity and strength to protect them since they have repulsed the government troops forcing them to retreat to distant areas.

He says that schools and businesses are now free to resume, adding that their main objective is to see people loving and developing each other than engaging in ethnic and xenophobic attacks.

Hajji Shafique Ssekandi  Ssengoba, the Kisoro Resident District Commissioneralso confirms that some of the refugees have started vacating Bunagana towncouncil to return to their country, saying this is good news because they have been suffering without several services at the border.  

He, however, says that the rebels are subjecting the returnees to several conditions as they have to go through thorough screening and registration to be allowed to cross back.

He says that as authorities in the district, their prayer is to see refugees happily living in peace in their home country.

Our reporter also understands that after crossing to Congo, the refugees are not allowed to cross back to Uganda with anything as a way to contain looting and theft.

There was fresh fighting between the government troops and rebels on Monday in   Bikenge and Shangivillages, Bweza Groupement. Sources from the military indicate that five soldiers were killed by shells fired by the rebels. 

The Congolese government is yet to comment on the matter. 

On Monday night, the provincial government of North Kivu through the provincial Governor Lt. Gen Constant Ndima announced a ban on economic operators, customs agents, and traders via the border post of Bunagana until further notice.

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