More than 16,500 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have fled to western Uganda, the United Nations says.
“The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that more than 16,500 Congolese refugees have been registered at the Nyakabanda transit camp in Kisoro, in Western Uganda,” Xinhua quoted UN spokesman Martin Nesirky as saying on Tuesday.
“The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is helping to transport the refugees to a nearby refugee settlement,” he added.
Thousands of Congolese refugees have been pouring into Uganda since last week, when fighting between Congolese forces and the March 23 movement (M23) rebel fighters intensified.
Meanwhile, reports say that the M23 rebels are advancing toward the DRC’s key eastern city of Goma.
On Monday, the rebel fighters pulled out of Rutshuru, a strategic town in the mineral-rich province of North Kivu, as well as the nearby villages of Kiwanja and Rubare.
Rebel leader Colonel Sultani Makenga said on Sunday that the M23 rebels had captured Rubare, Rutshuru, Kalengera, and Kako. He added that the seized towns would be handed over to United Nations peacekeepers and the police.
However, late in the day the rebels issued a statement warning the Congolese army against returning to the towns. Any such effort, the statement added, would be "immediately and energetically repressed."
Since early May, as many as 200,000 civilians have fled their homes. Most of them have resettled inside Congo, but tens of thousands have crossed into neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.
The rebels, known as the March 23 movement, defected from the Congolese army in April in protest over alleged mistreatment in the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). They had previously been integrated into the Congolese army under a peace deal signed in 2009.
The mutiny is being led by General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on a charge of recruiting child soldiers.
Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on for over a decade and left over 5.5 million people dead.