Fighting between the army and a group of armed men in eastern Congo forced some 11 000 people to flee across the border into Uganda in the last few days, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
Congo’s army said on Monday it had recovered two villages near the eastern border with Uganda and Rwanda after they were seized on Sunday by fighters from the M23 rebel group – though they denied involvement.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said the influx into Uganda on Monday was the largest single-day surge in more than a year for a nation already hosting more refugees than any other in Africa.
“Uganda’s borders are closed to asylum-seekers due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the government has once again applied a humanitarian exception and granted safe passage to people seeking safety,” UNHCR said in a statement.
M23 has been largely inactive since capturing swathes of territory during an insurrection in 2012-2013.
UN investigators have previously accused Rwanda and Uganda, which intervened militarily in Congo during two regional wars two decades ago, of supporting the M23.
Both countries deny this.
On Tuesday Rwanda’s army rejected reports the attackers were based in Rwanda. “The Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) is neither involved in nor supports any activity of the ex-M23 armed group,” the RDF said in a statement.
“The ex-M23 group… has been based in Uganda, from where this attack originated, and to where the armed group retreated.”
Uganda did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but has previously denied supporting the group.
Benjamin Kahumba, a priest in Jomba, the area where the attacks took place, said fighting had ceased on Tuesday and that a few people had begun trickling back to their homes.