Kinshasa – Democratic Republic of Congo’s army said on Tuesday it had driven out suspected insurgents from positions they had seized near the country’s eastern border.
The military came under fire overnight on Sunday in an area around 80km (50 miles) from Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
The army blames a faction called the M23, one of more than 120 armed groups which roam eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – a legacy of regional wars more than two decades ago.
“We have recovered the entire zone, we have dislodged the enemy and I was able to spend the night in Chanzu” with soldiers, Colonel Honore Rindugu, a battalion commander, told AFP.
“I’m heading for Runyoni Hill to set up soldiers there,” he said.
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“We took back all the hills by yesterday evening, including Runyoni and Chanzu,” Rutshuru territory administrator Colonel Luc-Albert Bakole Nyengeke said, adding that one soldier had been killed.
“At the moment the population is returning,” he told AFP.
Local administrative chief Jackson Gachuki said the army had recovered “all five villages” that had been captured.
“Since this morning, most of the population has returned to Chanzu, the centre of Bungana and the surrounding area,” he said.
At least 11 000 people crossed into Uganda to escape the clashes, the UN Refugee Agency said in Geneva earlier.
The number is the largest refugee influx into Uganda for more than a year, said UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo, adding that the vast majority were women and children.
But local Ugandan Red Cross official Primrose Natukaunda said the numbers fell sharply after the Ugandan and DRC authorities agreed to urge people to return “since the situation has calmed down”.
By Tuesday evening, she expected there to be no more than “600 or 700” people in a transit centre that had previously taken in more than 5 000.
Images shared by the Red Cross officials showed lines of people who had gathered on the Ugandan side of the border walking back into the DRC.
Uganda hosts around 1.5 million refugees – more than any other country in Africa – of which around 440 000 are from the DRC.
The M23 is a Congolese Tutsi group that was largely defeated after launching a rebellion almost a decade ago.
Its leadership has issued a statement denying staging the attacks.
Picture: Getty Images