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Congo attack stirs Ugandan fears

The national flag of Uganda.

The national flag of Uganda.

Published Jul 12, 2013

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KAMPALA - al-Qaeda linked rebels have attacked a town in eastern Congo, forcing thousands of refugees flee across the border into Uganda for safety, Uganda's Red Cross and military said on Friday.

The Uganda Red Cross Society said 18,450 Congolese refugees crossed into the east African country after the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) hit the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo town of Kamangu on Thursday.

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Uganda is worried that an unchecked build up of the capacity of the ADF, which was active against Kampala in the 1990s, could pose a major threat to its Lake Albert region where crude reserves estimated at 3.5 billion barrels have been discovered, and production is expected to commence soon.

Paddy Ankunda, Uganda's military spokesman, told a news conference in Kampala that the military was concerned the rebels might join the influx disguised as refugees.

“The attacks on Kamangu resulted into an influx of refugees into Bundibugyo (in western Uganda) particularly,” Ankunda said.

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“The latest reports I got ... is that they're well over 3,000 and that's quite worrying but also this influx can bring bad characters and this can cause insecurity.”

Ankunda also said the military feared ADF could have gained attack skills from al Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked insurgent group operating in Somalia, that could be used inside Uganda.

Ugandan troops were screening the refugees to flush out any possible ADF militia.

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“They've been training on IEDs ... they're planning to use small bombs on the population. We're taking that very seriously because that means that given the porousness of our borders, they can easily sneak in sleeper cells inside our towns and attack our people,” Ankunda said.

The ADF waged an insurgency against Kampala in the late 1990s from its bases in the Ruwenzori Mountains and across the frontier in the eastern Congo jungle. At its peak, the ADF was blamed for a series of deadly blasts in the capital.

A government offensive that ended in 2001 killed many of ADF's top commanders, quelled the uprising and pushed its remnants deeper into eastern Congo.

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The group had since kept largely silent and carried out only minor attacks on villages and units of Congo's army.

Somalia's al Shabaab insurgents claimed responsibility for a July 2010 bombing in which 79 people were killed while watching the final of the soccer World Cup in Uganda.

The Islamists said they carried out the attack to avenge Uganda's deployment of its troops in Somalia.

Although Uganda has pursued ADF into the Congo in past, the military was now banking on a U.N. intervention brigade that has been tasked to neutralise all rebels in eastern Congo to help tackle the rebel group, Ankunda said. - Reuters

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