The M23 rebels have allowed DRC refugees who are camping in Bunagana town council to cross back to Rutshuru and pick up basic needs.
The rebels conquered Bunagana border in Rutshuru territory, North Kivu province on Monday after overpowering DRC government security forces in the area. The security team which comprised 137 members of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and 37 police officers retracted from the frontline and fled to Uganda.
On Monday evening, several refugees were denied access by the rebels who are physically manning the border.
But on Tuesday, the rebels allowed the civilians to cross and pick up their food, water, clothes, bedding, and money among other properties that they had abandoned when heavy fighting broke out on Sunday.
Our reporter at the border saw thousands of refugees crossing into DR Congo and returning moments later with beddings and food. Other refugees were also seen greeting, hugging, and congratulating the rebels upon conquering the Bunagana border.
Addressing the media on the DRC side of Bunagana, Major Willy Ngoma, the M23 rebels spokesperson said that the refugees were allowed to pick their property because even in the prevailing circumstances, the rebels recognize that nationals deserve better. He says the gesture is to prove that the fighters are humane and are working for peace and security.
Ngoma insisted that M23’s aim was not to capture the Bunagana border but it was compelled due to provocation and shelling of their bases by FARDC and other militia collaborators. He said that apart from the Bunagana border, M23 have also captured other neighbouring areas of Tchanzu, Runyoni, Bugusa, Mikeno, Karisindi and Visoke among others.
He adds that though M23 is not interested in following up FARDC soldiers who were manning the border and fled to Uganda, they will fight back in form of self-defence once those FARDC soldiers conduct any attack again.
By press time, rebels were still manning the border with no sound of gun shots heard since Monday midday.
DR Congo has accused Rwanda of backing the M23 rebels. On Wednesday, the DR Congo government accused Rwanda of deploying 500 of its Special Forces soldiers in the vicinity of Tchanzu, all dressed in new green-black uniforms and wearing helmets to back up M23 rebels.
Both Rwanda and M23 rebels have strongly refuted the accusations. M23 says that it is a movement that fights bad leadership in DR Congo which is based on corruption, xenophobia, and discrimination. The rebel group accuse FARDC of collaborating with other militia groups and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) to fight.