KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda closed a major border crossing into the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday after Congo’s government accused a rebel movement of taxing goods entering the country from Uganda.
The border point at Bunagana in eastern Congo’s North Kivu province is a lifeline for trade in the region and also serves as a reception centre for refugees fleeing fighting between the rebels and Congolese government forces.
The closure looked like a gesture by Uganda to its neighbour after a United Nations report accused senior officials from Uganda and Rwanda - which also borders North Kivu - of backing the rebels, prompting Congo to call for sanctions against them.
“The DRC government formally complained that we were keeping an open border at Bunagana and allowing an illegitimate organisation to tax incoming goods,” said Felix Kulayigye, a Ugandan army spokesman.
He did not say when the border might re-open.
Led by a warlord indicted by the International Criminal Court, the March 23 Movement rebels, also known as M23, have displaced about half a million Congolese since they started fighting the Kinshasa government from their bases in North Kivu early this year.
The rebel movement’s name refers to the date of a 2009 peace deal that ended a previous rebellion in North Kivu which the rebels say has since been broken.
A U.N. Group of Experts report said Uganda had allowed M23’s political branch to operate from its capital Kampala in addition to providing M23 with troops, weapons, technical help, political advice and facilitation of external relations.
Kampala has strongly denied the accusations and has since threatened to pull out of peacekeeping missions in Africa unless the United Nations amends the report.
Rwanda has also denied the allegations.
Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Tom Pfeiffer