UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
DRC-UGANDA: Military hands over 36 armed men to Congolese authorities
KAMPALA, 23 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - Ugandan military officials on Monday handed over to Congolese authorities some 36 armed men who were among thousands of refugees who fled to Uganda following recent heavy fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Thousands of Congolese have crossed into western Uganda since last week, fleeing fighting between the Congolese army and rebels, according Lt Kinconco Tabaro, the Ugandan military spokesman.
Tabaro said the 36 men, along with 48 family members, were handed over to Congolese authorities at Mpondwe border post, about 450 km west of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, in the presence of officials from the United Nations Mission in the DRC (MONUC) as well as the Congolese military.
"In the past few days, over 7,000 Congolese have crossed over to Uganda following heavy fighting involving heavy guns like mortars and rocket-propelled grenades," Tabaro said.
He said that at least 5,000 Congolese had entered Uganda through Kanungu district; 2,000 others had entered through Kisoro in the southwest; and another 300 through Bundibugyo district, all of which share a border with DRC.
"Among them were the 36 armed Congolese, including government soldiers and the police, whom we disarmed on arrival," Tabaro said.
Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) had sent teams from Kampala to assess the border areas. The agency estimated that there were 20,000 new Congolese arrivals in Uganda.
In a statement on Sunday, UNHCR said its staff had reported that some 15,000 Congolese refugees were staying in the open at an airfield in Kisoro, while another group of about 5,000 was in Uganda's Kanungu district, at the border hamlet of Ishasha.
"Most of the refugees were reported in good shape, and many of those at Ishasha brought their own food and livestock," the agency reported. "The refugees in Kisoro told UNHCR staff that they had crossed into Uganda to get away from the fighting, while those at Ishasha said they had fled because they feared being attacked."
The agency said the most urgent concerns for both groups were drinking water, food, shelter and sanitation.
Relief supplies - including a water tanker, two water bladders, blankets, jerry cans, tool sets and plastic sheets from UNHCR emergency stockpiles - have been sent to Kisoro, according to the agency. "Those supplies will be made available if the refugees are unable to return home and decide to move into government-identified settlements further inside Uganda," UNHCR said.
"The vast majority of the refugees say they want to stay close to the border so they can return home to the DRC as soon as they feel it is safe to do so," the agency added.
Uganda is already home to some 208,000 refugees, including 168,800 Sudanese, 20,200 Congolese and 15,600 Rwandans, according to UNHCR statistics.
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