Attacks by the M23 or March 23 Movement, a primarily Congolese Tutsi militia, are causing large-scale displacements in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and tensions with neighboring Rwanda.
On June 13 this year, M23 rebels captured the border town of Bunagana, forcing Congolese soldiers, police, and civilians to flee to Uganda.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Abel Nuwamanya, program manager for the Restoration of Family Links (RFL), a program of the Ugandan Red Cross, said that at least 30,000 people, mostly women, and children, have been forced to leave the region.
Samuel Ayabere, a former member of the M23, who had to abandon the group after he sustained a bullet injury said the group has been fighting for Tutsi people’s rights in Congo.
“The M23 decided to fight the DR Congo government because it mistreats Tutsi people as if they are not Congolese,” he said.
David Musenze, an analyst, said since the rebel group is comprised mostly of members of the Tutsi tribe, the original inhabitants of Rwanda, authorities in DR Congo have been blaming the neighboring country for supporting them.
According to a recent UN report, the fighting between M23 and DR Congo forces has displaced around 140,000 people from their homes, with some moving to other places within the country and others fleeing to neighboring countries.
“M23 rebels have made our lives awful. They made us flee from our homes and now we are living in terrible conditions as refugees in Uganda,” said Nelson Khihosi, 60, a resident of eastern DR Congo and now living in a refugee camp in Uganda.
During the fighting nine-year-old Pecos Hakiza, lost contact with his family. A family has given him shelter in Uganda near the borders of DR Congo.
He said that rebels had attacked his home and killed his father on June 13.
“I followed groups of people who were escaping the village due to the attack by the rebels,” he said.
Analysts say the M23 came into existence in 2012 after a rebellion by the Tutsi tribe against the DR Congo government. They pushed the government forces and took control of the capital of North Kivu Province, Goma, with a population of one million.
Failure of peace talks
But after the mediation from the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, an intergovernmental organization of African countries, they withdrew from the city and announced a cease-fire.
The rebel leaders held several rounds of talks with the DR Congo government and both agreed on some issues.
But rebels later complained that the government had failed to fulfill the commitments as agreed during the talks.
In a recent offensive, M23 captured the Congolese border town of Bunagana.
On June 15, the rebels held a press conference in Bunagana in which they said they were fighting for their rights.
“We are not interested in fighting. We want peace. We are not warmongers,” said M23 spokesman Willy Ngoma.
He said their main demand was to end discrimination against the people of the Tutsi tribe.
Six presidents of member countries of the East African Community, an intergovernmental organization, met in Kenya on June 20 and agreed to soon send a regional standby force to DR Congo to fight the M23 rebels.
The force will include troops from Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, South Sudan, DR Congo, and Tanzania./aa