By Spy Uganda
Ugandan troops deployed in eastern DR Congo as part of the East African Community regional force will oversee the M23 rebel group’s withdrawal as well as open the Bunagana-Goma main supply route, among its other tasks, the joint force announced on Friday, March 31.
As noted, the Ugandan troops joining EACRF crossed the Uganda-DR Congo border to deploy in Bunagana, Kiwanja and Mabenthe zones within Rutshuru, “marking a critical milestone and the final phase towards full deployment of the EACRF.”
They will oversee M23’s sequenced withdrawal, protect civilians and open Bunagana-Goma main supply route.
Bunagana, a major Congolese town at the border with Uganda, fell into the arms of the M23 rebels in June 2022, threatening the passage of goods to Goma, the capital of DR Congo’s North Kivu province.
The Ugandan army (UPDF) leadership, on March 29, flagged off a contingent dispatched to eastern DR Congo and Uganda became the third country to contribute to the regional force, after Kenya and Burundi. The Ugandan soldiers officially joined the regional force on Friday.
In a March 30 statement, President Yoweri Museveni – who was responding to media reports that claimed that the Ugandan troops would fight the rebels fighting the Congolese government forces in North Kivu – said that the UPDF will support the peace plan agreed between the Congolese government and the M23, including the rebels’ withdrawal.
He said the soldiers would act as “a neutral force as the Congolese use the time to sort out their political problems.”
Not There To Fight
Musevein said UPDF’s initial mission is to occupy some of the positions that the M23 rebels already handed over to the East African Force as a neutral force, “instead of the Congolese Army which the M-23 see as enemies or armed opponents in their internal politics.”
Museveni stated: “We are, therefore, going to the Bunagana-Rutshuru area, not in order to fight the M-23, but to act as a neutral force as the Congolese use the time to sort out their political problems.
“Unless we are attacked, we are not there to fight. Fighting may come later if one of the non-state armed groups does not accept peace on what we all regard as reasonable conditions.”
The regional force was first deployed in November 2022.
It is mandated to support efforts to stabilize eastern DR Congo, a region rich in mineral resources and home to more than 130 local and foreign armed groups including the FDLR, a terrorist group sanctioned by the Security Council in 2013.
Ever since its deployment, the regional force took control of positions vacated by the M23 rebels as par the November 23, 2022 Luanda agreement signed by regional leaders in the Angolan capital.
While in Luanda in November 2022, regional leaders expressed concern about “the persistence of negative and terrorist forces” in the eastern DR Congo, which they noted, “constitutes a threat to peace, security, and stability in the sub-region.” They decided that all local and foreign armed groups should put down weapons.
In particular, three foreign armed groups, FDLR from Rwanda, RED-Tabara from Burundi, and the ADF from Uganda, were mentioned.
Handle Eastern DR Congo Problem Politically
Museveni said peace talks between the M23 and the Congolese government have been going on and “should continue so that the problem is handled politically.
Despite its gains in persuading the M23 to withdraw, the regional force faces pressure from Congolese politicians and civil society who want it to battle the M23 rebels.
Although Kinshasa maintains that the regional force’s mandate is ‘unequivocally offensive,’ for Museveni, the EAC heads of state would “have to mandate us to fight if one of the stakeholders refuses to implement the peace agreement we have agreed on.”
“That, however, is not the case now,” he said.
The Kenyan General commanding the regional force, Maj Gen Jeff Nyagah, in November 2022, said that a military solution would be the last option.
Under a bilateral mechanism with Kinshasa, Uganda already has troops in DR Congo’s Ituri province, where they are fighting the ADF, a Ugandan militia responsible for various human rights abuses both in Uganda and in DR Congo.
Museveni said the Ugandan troops in Ituri had “seriously degraded ADF” and that Congolese farmers were able to harvest their Cocoa for the first time in many years.