Over 5,000 refugees fleeing fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have escaped into neighbouring Uganda this week, United Nations officials said Wednesday, warning that double that number are expected to cross the border.
"Fighting...is causing a large amount of displacement into Uganda," said Lucy Beck, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, adding that 5,000 refugees had crossed the border since Monday.
"We are predicting up to 10,000 people would have crossed by tomorrow, because the fighting seems to be going on very close to the border... People are continuing to cross even as we speak."
Congolese troops backed by a United Nations intervention brigade launched a major offensive earlier this week against the M23 rebel movement of army mutineers in Congo's turbulent North Kivu province.
The number of refugees will "put some strain on our resources", Beck added, but said that preparations had been made for up to 150,000.
"The way it is going, we can imagine they will be staying for some amount of time," she added.
The M23 was founded by former Tutsi rebels who were incorporated into the Congolese army under a 2009 peace deal.
Complaining the deal was never fully implemented, they mutinied in April 2012, turning their guns on their former comrades and launching the latest rebellion to ravage DR Congo's mineral-rich and conflict-prone east.
The UN and various rights groups have accused the M23 of atrocities including rape and murder in a conflict that has caused tens of thousands of refugees to flee. Reuters