KAMPALA, Uganda — A Ugandan rebel group in eastern Congo attacked a town close to the border, forcing more than 18,000 Congolese to flee to Uganda, officials said Friday.
Uganda's army spokesman, Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda, said that Ugandan rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces attacked the eastern Congolese town of Kamango on Thursday, killing some people and forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.
"The threat of the Allied Democratic Forces is real," he said. "We have evidence that the rebels have been opening up new (military) camps. We are taking this very seriously."
Karen Ringuette, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency in Uganda, said at least 18,000 people had since sought refuge in Uganda, citing the latest figures from the Uganda Red Cross.
"Humanitarian coordination is ongoing on interventions, but emergency supplies are on the way from various partners," she said.
The Allied Democratic Forces is a militia formed in the early 1990s by Ugandan Muslims who said they had been sidelined by the policies of Uganda's long-serving president. The rebel group at the time staged deadly terrorist attacks in Ugandan villages as well as in the capital, including a 1998 attack in which 80 students were massacred in a frontier town. A Ugandan military assault later forced the rebels into eastern Congo, where many rebel groups are able to roam free because the central government has limited control there.
Ugandan military officials have been warning about the rebels' resurgence for several months, but they now believe the rebels could be plotting an attack on Ugandan territory. The rebels have largely been silent over the years, staging sporadic attacks on towns in eastern Congo and against Congolese military units.
A U.N. report last year said those rebels "expanded their military capacity and cooperated" with Somalia's al-Shabab militants. Ugandan officials do not know how many rebels are in the bush.
Ankunda, the Ugandan military spokesman, said Uganda's government was concerned the rebels might exploit their ties with al-Shabab to wage a terrorist campaign on Ugandan territory.
"We suspect that their link to al-Shabab could give them new skills on how to make improvised explosive devices," he said.