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M23 rebels in eastern Congo seize town near Uganda border

M23 rebels in eastern Congo seize town near Uganda border

GOMA, Congo – Congo’s M23 rebels have taken control of the eastern town of Bunagana, residents said Monday, in what appears to be the latest gain by the insurgents in their weeks-long offensive against the army.

After a night of heavy fighting, the rebels captured the town around 8 a.m., according to Innocent Ndagije, a civic leader from Bunagana. He said people are fleeing the town and reported seeing more rebels crossing the nearby border from Uganda.

“We deplore the attack by the M23 rebels and call on the Congolese government to hunt down and neutralize these rebel groups so that state authority can return,” he said.

Bunagana is 60 kilometres (37 miles) northeast of Goma, a city of nearly 2 million people that also serves as a hub for international aid organizations and the United Nations peacekeeping mission United Nations known as MONUSCO.

Bunagana is an important transit point for goods imported into Congo from China. The day before, a government official accused the rebels of wanting to seize Bunagana to cripple Goma financially.

There was no immediate confirmation that Bunagana fell to the Congolese army, which controlled the town near the border with Uganda.

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However, Ugandan security officials believe the Congolese border town is now “under the control of M23 rebels”, Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga said.

More than 100 Congolese soldiers, fleeing heavy fighting with rebels, crossed the border and “surrendered” to Ugandan authorities, he told reporters, adding that the Congolese soldiers will be transferred to Rutshuru, another town in eastern Congo near the Ugandan border.

A spokesman for the military governor of North Kivu said an official statement from Congolese authorities on the situation would be issued later.

A decade ago, M23 rebels seized Goma and held it for weeks. Part of the peace deal to end this conflict involved the integration of rebel fighters into the Congolese army.

However, the rebels have recently taken up arms again, claiming that the Congolese government has not kept its promises. Thousands of families fled their homes as the fighting intensified.

Congolese authorities have accused neighbouring Rwanda of supporting the rebels. Many M23 fighters are Congolese Tutsis, and the Rwandan president is of Rwandan Tutsi origin. The rise in violence has greatly exacerbated tensions between the two countries, whose relations have been strained for decades.

Rwanda alleges that the Congo gave refuge to ethnic Hutus who perpetrated the 1994 Rwandan genocide, killing at least 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Over the years, the two countries have accused each other of supporting various rival armed groups.

Both Rwanda and Uganda deny claims that they support the M23. The Rwandan army has accused neighbouring Congolese forces of injuring several civilians in cross-border shelling.

Associated Press writers Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda; Justin Kabumba in Goma, Congo; and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

M23 rebels in eastern Congo seize town near Uganda border

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