DRC: M23 rebels capture Bunagana border post, Uganda dismiss accusations of helping them

By Musinguzi Blanshe, in Kampala
Posted on Monday, 13 June 2022 16:46

International peacebuilding strategies have been accused of trying to achieve too much too soon. REUTERS/Djaffar Sabiti

The Democratic Republic of Congo-based Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23) rebels captured Bunagana border post on the morning of Monday 13 June, forcing Congolese soldiers and police to run into Uganda for safety. The DRC accuses Rwanda of supporting the rebels, and after the capture of the border post, there were online reports that Ugandan soldiers also aided the rebels. Army officials in Kampala have dismissed those claims.

Bunagana border, which connects Uganda’s Kisoro district in the south-west part of the country to the DRC’s Rushuru, North Kivu Province, is located 70km north-east of Goma.

Fighting between M23 rebels and Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) soldiers intensified on Sunday 12 June and throughout the night. The rebels, who resumed fighting in May, emerged victorious. They briefly captured the same border post in 2013.

Brigadier Felix Kulayigye, spokesman for the Uganda army, tells The Africa Report that the armed forces 137 Congolese soldiers and 37 Congolese policemen were received by Uganda soldiers on Monday morning. “We have to keep them until the situation normalises on the other side,” he says. “We disarmed them.”

There have been accusations and counter-accusations between DRC and Rwanda in the past month. Kigali claims that DRC soldiers are fighting shoulder by shoulder with the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), whose members include people who participated in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. FDLR rebels have lived in eastern DRC for nearly three decades.

Kinshasa, on the other hand, has been claiming that Kigali is aiding M23 rebels, majority of whom are ethnic Tutsi. In the past days, each side accused the other of bombing its territory’s adjacent border. Last week, FADRC claimed that about 500 Rwanda’s special forces disguised as M23 had crossed into its territory and were fighting with the rebels.

Uganda accused

After the fall of the Bunagana border, accusations started spreading online that Uganda soldiers had subtly aided rebels during the night to defeat FARDC. The accusations were being spread by Congolese journalists and local organisations in North Kivu.

“As much as @RwandaMoD, the Ugandan army supported the #M23 who took #Bunagana even though it claims to fight the #ADF alongside the #FARDC in the territories of #Beni and #Irumu,” LUCHA, an NGO with more than 300,000 followers, said on Twitter. “Uganda and Rwanda continue the destabilisation agenda of #RDC. Let’s not be fooled!”

Uganda was first accused of supporting the rebels in 2013 when the group was formed. After its defeat, many of its members crossed into Uganda. Currently, Kampala and Kishansa are on good terms, with Uganda army currently fighting Allied Democratic Force (ADF), an Islamist-state-linked rebel group that has its sanctuaries in eastern DRC.

Brigadier Kulayigye laughs off at the allegations. “Is it logical that we support M23 and then government forces run to us? Some of these reports, treat them with the contempt they deserve,” he tells The Africa Report.

Brigadier Kulayigye says Uganda has been pledging neutrality in the M23 conflict. “We have been the arbiter between M23 and the government,” he says. “We cannot take a side. It’s our interest that there is peace in this region.”

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