GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo (Reuters) – Armed men seized at least two villages in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo near the borders with Uganda and Rwanda on Monday, a local official and a group of activists said on Monday.
Lieutenant-Colonel Mohendo Loanzo, the assistant governor of Rutshuru province, blamed the militants of the March 23rd Movement, a rebel group that captured parts of the province in 2012 and 2013.
The two villages, Chanzo and Runyoni, were the last strongholds of M23 before they were chased by Congolese forces and the United Nations in Uganda and Rwanda in 2013.
Since then, regional efforts have been made to demobilize the fighters, but the group has complained about the slow implementation of the peace agreement, and some have returned to the Congo.
It was not immediately possible to confirm the identities of the militants who had captured the two villages. M23 officials and spokespersons for the Congolese army and government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Luanzu said the gunmen stormed Chanzo and Runyoni at the same time around 11 pm on Sunday.
“Our forces are now carrying out counter-attack operations because they found out at night that the enemy is from Rwanda,” Luanzu told Reuters by phone.
UN investigators have accused Rwanda and Uganda, which intervened militarily in Congo during two regional wars two decades ago, of supporting M23. States deny this.
A group of local activists reported that clashes using light and heavy weapons on Sunday evening forced people to leave their homes and cross the border into Uganda at Bunagana.
“Uganda is seeing an influx of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” said Irene Nakasita of the Uganda Red Cross.
The United States issued a security alert on Sunday evening, warning of a possible attack on the regional capital Goma, about 31 miles (50 km) southwest of Al-Qaryatayn, and advised its personnel to stay put.
A Reuters reporter said all the main streets in Goma were later filled with soldiers.
Additional coverage by Jaafar Qattany and Fieston Mahamba in Goma, Erikas Moisi Kambale in Bukavu and Elias Priyaparima in Kampala; Written by Hereward Holland. Editing by Mark Heinrich
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