Uganda frets over rebel threat as Congo refugees reach 66,000

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 14, 2013 12:48 PM
Uganda frets over rebel threat as Congo refugees reach 66,000

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda is worried that a rising stream of refugees fleeing fighting in eastern Congo could give easy passage for rebels to launch attacks in the country, the military said on Sunday.

The Uganda Red Cross Society said 66,000 Congolese refugees have so far crossed into the east African country since the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) started attacking the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo town of Kamangu on Thursday.

Paddy Ankunda, Uganda's military spokesman, said the large Congolese influx had negative security implications in the country's western region should rebels sneak in as refugees.

"You can't be sure of the identity of each and every individual refugee and also the increasing volatility of the security situation right across the border worries us. Kamangu is only about 10 km (six miles) from the border," he said.

"No doubt we've stepped up our security deployments along the border because we certainly can't pretend that everything is okay, but for now we're only monitoring events across the border. We haven't sent a single soldier into Congo."

The Ugandan military said Congo troops had retaken Kamangu since it was attacked by the ADF, and that there had been no fighting since Saturday but the situation remained volatile.

Uganda has said the build-up of the ADF, which was active against Kampala in the 1990s, could threaten its Lake Albert region, where oil reserves estimated at 3.5 billion barrels have been discovered, with production expected to commence soon.

The military is concerned that the al Qaeda-linked ADF could have gained guerrilla skills from al Shabaab, the al Qaeda-linked militant group operating in Somalia, which could be used in Uganda. For this reason, Ugandan troops are screening the refugees to flush out any possible ADF militia.

The ADF waged an insurgency against Kampala in the late 1990s from its bases in the Ruwenzori Mountains and across the frontier in the eastern Congo jungle.

A government offensive that ended in 2001 quelled the uprising and pushed its remnants deeper into eastern Congo. The group had since kept largely silent since.

Catherine Ntabadde, spokeswoman for the Uganda Red Cross, said the number of refugees was still growing.

"They‘re camped at four primary schools and WFP (the United Nations World Food Program) has provided some food and (we) have also provided household items," she said.

(Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Alistair Lyon)