Uganda will not hand over to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) March 23 Movement (M23) who fled after a resounding military defeat, the spokesman for the army and the defense ministry said yesterday.
“They are not prisoners; they are soldiers running away from a war so we are receiving them and helping them because it is our responsibility,” Ugandan Colonel Paddy Ankunda said, adding that Kampala had also welcomed fleeing soldiers from the Congolese national army earlier in the year.
The M23, a group formed 18 months ago, and which both Rwanda and Uganda have been accused of backing, was defeated by the Congolese army with the backing of UN forces, and on Tuesday announced that it was putting an end to its military operations.
Ugandan military officers said on Thursday that about 1,500 insurgents from the M23 had crossed the border and surrendered.
“They will not be handed over to DRC. The peace agreement will determine, in matters of reintegration and reinsertion, the fate of the M23 soldiers,” Ankunda said, referring to an agreement that was being negotiated under Ugandan mediation between the DR Congo government and the M23 before the resounding military defeat.
A further 95 men, all wounded, sought refuge in neighboring Rwanda, where they are receiving medical treatment, according to the local Red Cross.
Analysts have cast doubt on the figure of 1,500, saying that the entire M23 force numbered only about 1,000 men at the end of last month.
They have suggested that the figure given by Uganda may include insurgents’ family members.