Armed fighters led by the military commander of former Congolese rebel group M23 have crossed the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo from Uganda, Congolese officials said on Sunday. The rebels had been in camps for demobilised fighters in Uganda following their defeat in 2013. Formerly, they were the largest of dozens of armed groups in the country and controlled huge swaths of the country’s mining heartland in the east.
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Renewed violence would be a major challenge for President Joseph Kabila, who is trying to fend off mounting opposition over his decision to stay beyond his mandate which expired last month. Some observers fear tensions could spark a new civil war.
“They made an incursion yesterday from Uganda at Ishasha in two columns and the Congolese armed forces have dealt with them for now,” said government spokesman Lambert Mende, referring to a border crossing near Virunga National Park.
He said rebel commander Sultani Makenga was among them, leading one of the two columns.
Julien Paluku, governor of the North Kivu province, also confirmed the encroachment and condemned Uganda for allowing them to leave on UN-funded Radio Okapi.
In a brief telephone conversation with Reuters, he denied that there had been fighting.
The whereabouts of the rebels on Sunday was not clear. Officials in Uganda were not immediately available for comment.
At its peak, M23 controlled North Kivu’s capital Goma but was driven out by U.N. and Congolese forces. Since then, the fighters have been scattered in camps in neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda awaiting amnesties.