Kampala: Democratic Republic of Congo`s M23 ex-rebel leader said Tuesday that several members were wounded when Ugandan troops tried to forcibly return them home.
The rebels` 18-month war, during which they briefly seized the key town of Goma, capital of mineral-rich North Kivu province, was brought to an end a year ago by government troops and UN peacekeepers, with fighters fleeing into neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda.
They signed papers in May vowing not to fight again in return for a possible amnesty, and some 1,300 were based in a camp in the southwest of Uganda.
Ugandan Army spokesman Paddy Ankunda announced early Tuesday that "M23 soldiers will be handed over to DRC government" at the capital`s main Entebbe airport, but later said there had been a "change" and "new timings" for a handover would be given.
But M23 president Bertrand Bisimwa said that his former fighters had fled their camp at Bihanga, some 380 kilometres (235 miles) southwest of the capital Kampala, after Ugandan army trucks arrived before dawn on Tuesday to take them to the airport.
"They refused to board the trucks," Bisimwa said, accusing Ugandan troops of firing shots at his men, saying some were wounded and "possibly dead."
The Ugandan Army spokesman was not immediately reachable, but a senior military source said that some M23 members had been wounded after the Ugandan army encountered "resistance".
Military reinforcements were deployed to Bihanga to "restore the situation" in the camp and to hunt down those fighters now "on the run," the official said.
Bisimwa said the operation to repatriate them was in "violation of the rules of international law" and went against a peace deal inked last year in Nairobi.
M23 leaders last month warned they would fight again should agreements fail. The defeated rebels told AFP last month of mounting frustrations among the group`s confined-to-camp fighters.
While the M23 were defeated, multiple armed groups still operate in a region that has been in conflict for the best part of the past two decades.
Much of the rebel activity consists of abuses against civilians and illegal exploitation of natural resources, be it metals, ivory or timber.