Kampala- A group of men who authorities say are former fighters of the M23 rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo, are being held at the army’s Bihanga Military Training School in Ibanda District, the same facility from which they are said to have escaped last week.
Capt Arthur King Timbaganya, the spokesperson of for the army’s 2nd Division, told this newspaper on Friday that security officials had intercepted the former rebels travelling in four omnibus vehicles as they attempted to escape from the country.
The army says the more than 50 M23 fighters were attempting to go back to DR Congo in the company of civilian Congolese nationals who are refugees in Uganda. Whereas the former “fighters” have been returned to Bihanga barracks, the army says, the civilians have been handed over to the Office of the Prime Minister and UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.
Apart from those intercepted in buses attempting to escape, the army said five more former M23 fighters were arrested in the border district of Kisoro. The Kisoro Resident District Commissioner, Mr Shafique Ssekandi, on Saturday said the five were intercepted as they travelled in a hired taxi and were being detained at Kisoro Police Station.
He said in the same operation, 16-Congolese nationals were arrested and would be charged with illegal entry into the country. The security situation in eastern DRC has been flagile for decades and there are constant fears of a relapse to full-scale war, making the “former fighters” potential easy targets for recruitment into armed activities.
The escape back into DRC by the former fighters, if it materialised, would be a breach of the deal the ex-rebels entered to demobilise having been defeated by a multilateral force sanctioned by the United Nations. The former fighters, numbering 270, have been at Bihanga barracks since 2013.
The March 23 Movement (M23) was a rebel military group based in eastern area of DR Congo, operating mainly in North Kivu Province. The rebel group was led by Col Sultani Makenga.