Ex-M23 combatants return home

At about 10am, a United Nations (UN) aircraft left Entebbe for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On board were at least 57 former Congolese fighters under the M23 rebel group who agreed to voluntarily return home.

The flight also had 10 of their dependents with whom they have been staying in Uganda for more than five years following their defeat in 2012 by a joint UN standby force made up of troops from Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa fighting alongside the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) troops.

More than 1000 fighters crossed into Uganda and were taken to Bihanga military barracks in Ibanda district. While some quietly crossed back into the DRC, about 200 ex-combatants are said to be still at Bihanga.

The former M23 fighters boarding a UN plane at Entebbe airport

The DRC ambassador to Uganda Jean Pierre Massala and Uganda’s Ambassador Special Duties for International Conference for the Great Lakes Region, Robert Masolo saw off the ex-combatants.

“When we see them going back home, it is a positive in terms of stability for the region, that is what our President (Yoweri Museveni) is focusing on, that is what our leaders are interested in – stability of the Great Lakes Region,” Masolo said.

Their journey back home comes a month after Joseph Kabila handed power to Félix Antoine Tshisekedi, whose administration is hoped to address decades-old grievances that forced the M23 to take up arms against Kabila’s government.