By Spy Uganda
Burundi this week became the first country to send troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of an East African regional force that aims to end decades of unrest in the eastern DRC. But few details have been released about the deployment and some security experts worry that Burundi, like other DRC neighbors, has its own security agenda.
Burundi is the first of six East African regional forces, or EAC, to deploy troops in the DRC.
The East African integration bloc agreed in June to send thousands of troops to help quell the violence in the region after the emergence of the rebel group M23.
On Wednesday, suspected M23 rebels killed civilians and destroyed a hydropower plant under construction in North Kivu’s Virunga National Park.
It’s unclear what kind of structures the EAC regional force led by Kenya will be putting together to achieve its goal of defeating the rebel groups like M23 and other militia formations in the country.
According to a report released by the Burundi Human Rights Initiative, late last year, Burundi secretly sent hundreds of troops into the DRC to fight a weakened armed group called Red Tabara, which carried out attacks inside Burundi.
Imbonerakure, the Burundi ruling party’s youth wing, is accused of widespread atrocities against political opponents and the Burundi masses.
Carina Tertsakian, with the Burundi Human Rights Initiative, expresses concern that the regional mission does not seem to have a clear mandate.
“The main purpose of the unofficial Burundi military operation in DRC was to go after that rebel group,” she said. “Now, in the context of the regional force, it’s not clear what’s going to happen, not only in Burundi. There are other countries that are supposed to be sending troops. So, will each of these forces be allowed to just do what it wants and hunt down their particular opponents? In Burundi, this will be Red Tabara, in which case it would be in practice a continuation of what they have already been doing for the past eight months.”
The Kinshasa government has expressed displeasure with the neighboring country’s alleged involvement in the armed conflict in Ituri, North and South Kivu provinces.
Congo has a formal agreement with Uganda to allow troops to fight alongside its military against the armed group, the Allied Democratic Forces.
Speaking at the Southern African Development Community summit this week in Kinshasa, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi thanked the regional community for its support.
Kinshasa does not want Rwanda to take part in the deployment for its support of M23, a claim denied by Kigali.