Bunagana Market in Bunagana Town Council, Kisoro District, has stopped doing business because so many Congolese people are coming there to escape fighting in Rutshuru territory.
Fresh fighting between the March 23 Movement (M23) rebels and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) army resumed on Thursday last week in the areas of Rangira and Shwema in the Jomba Group. On Sunday, fighting spread to Ntamugenga Kanyabusore, Charwika, Bugina, Mutovu, and Mungo in the Bweza Group and the Busanza Group, which is about 10 kilometers from Bunagana, which is the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.
On Monday afternoon, people in Musezero, Mukibaya, Kabindi, which is about 15 kilometers from the border, and Ntamugenga were forced to leave their homes because of gunfire near the Bunagana border.
The influx has forced authorities to opt for the re-opening of the Nyakabande refugee holding center, which was supposed to be closed at the end of this month. Refugees have also moved back into Bunagana market and Bunagana Primary School because authorities couldn’t get them to the Nyakabande detention center quickly enough.
On Tuesday, traders who turned up to carry out business in Bunagana market, which operates every Tuesday, found the market operations suspended by town council authorities.
Ismail Ndayambaje, Bunagana Town Council LCIII Chairman, says that they have decided that market operations be halted until refugees are transferred to Nyakabande. He also says that as authorities, they are avoiding traders and buyers from mixing with refugees. He, however, wants the transfer expedited so that the situation turns back to normal.
According to Ndayambaje, the insecurity in Rutshuru has negatively affected other businesses in the town council since the main border remains closed. He says that as a result, some traders have started shifting their businesses to the neighboring Mpaka town council and Busanza border, which are still under the control of the DRC government.
Emmanuel Maniragaba, one of the traders, says that when he reached the Bunagana Market to sell his produce, he was shocked to find it occupied by refugees. He says that he has opted to sell his beans along the Bunagana-Kisoro road.
On Tuesday, there was calm in Rutshuru. Peace talks to end fighting flopped after the DRC government demanded rebels first withdraw from the Bunagana border and other areas they are capturing. But rebels rejected the demands.
The DRC has repeatedly accused Rwanda of backing M23 rebels, an accusation Rwanda strongly refutes. M23 rebels also deny Rwanda’s backing. On Tuesday morning, the M23 rebels’ President made a very short statement saying that even now, the DRC can make the right decision to cease the conflict.
Meanwhile, the United Nations organization, through the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in DR Congo (OCHA), has put together an estimate of 23,000 civilians who have fled the fighting since Thursday last week, with many fleeing to Kisoro District.
According to OCHA, the resumption of hostilities risks restricting humanitarian access to certain areas, notably Ntamugenga and Kalenga in Rutshuru territory. OCHA fears that the likely closure of the Rutshuru-Goma road, which is of great economic importance, will lead to new obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians in need in Rutshuru. —Kiwanja.
Since March this year, when fighting between M23 rebels and FARDC troops started in Rutshuru territory, 186,000 people have been displaced, according to Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the Secretary General of the United Nations.