750 M23 ex-combatants unaccounted for

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A total of 750 former M23 rebel combatants are missing from Bihanga Military Training School in Ibanda District where they were taken for demobilisation.

Yesterday, a team military attaches from the United States of America, India, China, Rwanda and Tanzania led by Col Henry Isoke of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) visited the camp and met with the ex-combatants.

It was during this meeting that the disappearance of the combatants was made public.
The news of their disappearance comes at a time when there are reports that the former rebels are planning an attack on the Democratic Republic of Congo government three years after they were defeated by the United Nations Intervention Brigade.

At its peak, M23 controlled North Kivu’s capital Goma but was driven out by the UN and Congolese forces. Since then, the fighters have been scattered in camps in neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda awaiting amnesty.

Now at Bihanga Military Training School, the number of ex-combatants dwindles by the day and their destination is yet to be known.

In December 2013, a total of 1,374 ex-M23 combatants were transferred from Kavera in Kasese district to Bihanga.

Currently, the UPDF can only account for about three hundred of them. At least 19 ex- combatants are admitted at Bombo Military Hospital, while nine are confirmed dead since 2013. Seven of the ex-fighters were said to be on official duty and seven others on leave to see relatives.

Only 391 were at Bihanga Military training school at the time of the visit. One combatant is reportedly in detention for reasons that were withheld.

Reports at the school indicate that 60 combatants escaped from the camp on the 14th of January under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Yusufu Mbonyeyezu and another 76 left on the 19th of January under the leadership on Major Mwamba.

Lieutenant Colonel Innocent Rukara, the commander of the M23 ex-combatants told our reporter that they do not know where their colleagues went. Rukara reveals that having spent three years away from their country, some people are home sick and they disappear without any communication.

Arthur Timbaganya, the UPDF 2nd Division spokesperson said that the army had also invited diplomats and military attachés to interact with the ex-combatants. Timbaganya further revealed that the UPDF is engaging the international community to ensure that the disagreements between the M23 and the Kinshasa government are solved.

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