Africa

DR Congo army seizes Bunagana base from M23 rebels

Congolese soldiers arrive on a truck at Rumangabo military base, formerly held by M23 rebels, north of Goma, on 28 October 2013
Image caption The military has recaptured a string of towns since the weekend

Government forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have captured Bunagana town, the main base of the M23 rebel group, officials say.

The troops entered the town on the Ugandan border in large numbers as the rebels fled, residents told the BBC.

M23 political leader Bertrand Bisimwa was earlier reported to have crossed into Uganda as Congolese troops advanced on his base.

The M23 launched a rebellion in eastern DR Congo in April 2012.

It is made up of army deserters who say they are fighting for the rights of the minority Tutsi ethnic group.

At least 800,000 people have been left homeless since the conflict started.

About 10,000 people fled to Uganda this week, with about half of them arriving on Wednesday, said Lucy Beck, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the Associated Press (AP) news agency reports.

Heavy shelling

On Monday, the UN special envoy to DR Congo, Martin Kobler, said the M23 was all but finished as a military threat in DR Congo.

His comments came after government forces captured five M23-held areas, including Rumangabo where the rebels had a big military training camp.

The government forces have been backed by a UN intervention brigade deployed earlier this year to confront the M23 and other armed groups.

The BBC's Ignatius Bahizi in Uganda says residents in Bunagana told him there was heavy shelling, before the town fell to government forces.

"Bunagana is completely under our control. We had been fighting since the early morning," DR Congo's government spokesman Lambert Mende told the AFP news agency.

Bunagana, a town of several thousand people and the headquarters of Mr Bisimwa, is on the Uganda-DR Congo border.

Mr Bisimwa had surrendered to Ugandan security operatives after crossing the border in a convoy of two vehicles, Uganda's state-owned New Vision newspaper reported.

He left Bunagana when government and UN forces were about 5km (three miles) away from the town and he was being questioned by Ugandan security operatives, the paper said.

However, M23 officials denied that Mr Bisimwa had fled.

They told our reporter that the M23 political leader had travelled to Uganda to sign a peace accord with the government.

Peace talks hosted by Uganda broke down last week.

The UN and DR Congo government have repeatedly accused Rwanda and Uganda of backing the rebels. They deny the allegation.

Eastern DR Congo has been wracked by conflict since 1994, when Hutu militias fled across the border from Rwanda after carrying out a genocide against Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Around the BBC

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites