Uganda holds dozens of fleeing M23 rebels after Congo clashes

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda is holding dozens of fighters from the M23 rebel group who fled the Democratic Republic of Congo after clashing with troops there this week, the Ugandan military said on Thursday.

Richard Karemire, Uganda’s military spokesman, told Reuters that 44 M23 fighters were being held at a camp in the southwestern town of Kisoro.

He rejected accusations made by DRC that Uganda was enabling the fighters to revive their insurgency.

“They fled and they are at a camp... pending determination of their next destination,” he said.

M23, the largest of a number of rebel movements that have sown chaos and bloodshed in mineral-rich eastern Congo for years, once controlled swathes of territory there.

Hundreds of the group’s fighters, however, fled to Uganda in 2013 after a combined United Nations and Congolese force routed their rebellion.

Since November, authorities in Kinshasa have said Uganda was allowing M23 rebels to slip back into eastern Congo to re-launch their rebellion.

The latest fighting between the Congolese army, FARDC, and M23 rebels took place from Monday to Wednesday in Rutshuru territory in DRC’s North Kivu province, close to Bunagana, a town on the border with Uganda.

A DRC military official, Captain Guillaume Djike, told Reuters that Congo troops had killed 16 and captured five rebel fighters in the clashes.

He said they “succeeded in thwarting” the attack by the rebels who “came from Uganda and they returned from where they came.”

Last month Uganda said it had intercepted dozens of rebel group members who were en route to Congo from a camp where they settled after their 2013 defeat.

Officials vowed not to let the fighters launch incursions into Congo from Uganda.

Karemire denied the rebels who staged this week’s assault had come from Uganda: “There’s no evidence those people came from Uganda... We don’t export fighters to the DRC.”

A rebel resurgence in eastern DRC is seen as another destabilizing development for Congo, which has already been rocked by incumbent President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to leave office since his term expired in December.

More instability could spark a wider conflict in a multiethnic region that has seen decades of war.

Kabila’s government has told the United Nations that a re-emergence of the M23 rebellion would endanger a deal with the opposition intended to lead to a presidential election this year.

Additional reporting by Aaron Ross in Kinshasa; Editing by Hugh Lawson