By Spy Uganda Correspondent
Defence chiefs from the East African Community (EAC) partner states have directed the immediate deployment of troops from countries yet to join the regional force in Goma, capital of North province in eastern DR Congo, according to reports.
The regional military chiefs met in Nairobi, Kenya, on Friday, February 9, in the presence of the EAC Secretariat following the bloc’s Heads of State’s directive on February 4 to have forces on the ground based on a timeline agreed on by the security chiefs.
They agreed to deploy troops to areas earmarked for the M23 rebels phased withdrawal and the protection of civilians in areas earlier vacated by the rebels.
The M23 rebel group began its withdrawal in December 2022 and has since pulled out from Kibumba and Rumagambo military base. The regional force occupies the positions vacated by the M23 rebels.
The regional Chiefs of Defence Forces or Chiefs of Defence Staff met “to evaluate the efforts for the restoration of peace and security” in eastern DR Congo, according to a statement by the Kenya Defence Forces. The Chairperson, and Chief of the Defence Force Burundi, Gen Prime Niyongabo, expressed hope that the deliberations of the meeting would contribute towards creating lasting peace and stability in eastern DR Congo.
He appreciated the extensive and fruitful deliberations by the participants that contributed to the fulfillment of the Directive by the EAC Heads of State.
“The Chairperson additionally noted that he was optimistic that the deployment of the remaining East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) contingent will be expedited to enable the regional force deliver on its mandate,” reads the statement.
“The delegation also agreed on the deployment of EACRF to areas earmarked for M23 phased withdrawal, and the protection of civilians in areas vacated by M23.”
Rwanda was represented by the RDF Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen Jean Bosco Kazura.
Details of the outcome of the meeting were not shared, but Gen Niyogambo, expressed hope that the deliberations will contribute towards creating lasting peace and stability in eastern DR Congo.
“I am optimistic that the deployment of the remaining East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) contingent will expedite the regional forces to deliver on its mandate,” he said.
The regional force was deployed in November 2022 as a peace enforcement unit but is yet to get the nod to engage the armed rebel groups.
Apart from Congolse President Félix Tshisekedi who has continuously pressed for the military option – aimed solely at the M23 rebels inspite of the fact that eastern DR Congo is awash with more than 130 local and foreign armed groups – other regional leaders prefer the path of political dialogue as first priority.
Kigali has, for years, urged Kinshasa and the international community to act and address the root cause of the insecurity and un ending crisis in eastern DR Congo, to no avail.
Only Kenya has, so far, deployed troops to eastern DR Congo under EACRF. Uganda and South Sudan announced deployment plans, but their troops have not yet joined the EACRF operation. Kinshasa objected to the idea Rwanda also contributing troops to the regional force and it remains unclear whether Kigali could play a major role considering the the regional leaders’ latest directives during their Summit in Bujumbura on February 4.
During the EAC’s 20th Extra-Ordinary Summit last Saturday, the presidents urged Kinshasa to facilitate the deployment of troops from South Sudan and Uganda to the regional force.
Three staff officers from Rwanda serving at the EACRF headquarters in Goma were deported on January 30, – a move that raised concerns about Kinshasa’s commitment to the regional peace efforts.
Former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on February 8 requested EAC countries to fully deploy troops to eastern DR Congo.
Speaking for the first time after the EAC’s extra-ordinary Summit in Bujumbura, Kenyatta, urged the countries of the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) to deploy and take up their positions urgently and without further delay throughout eastern DR Congo.
In the case of North Kivu province, Kenyatta called for “the regional force to inter-pose itself between the fighting forces in areas where the withdrawal of the armed groups has been effected.”
He did not attend the recent regional Summit in Bujumbura but Kenyatta said he endorsed the decisions by EAC leaders.
The EACRF has been dogged by protests in Goma as Kinshasa demands that it battles M23 rebels and allows Congolese forces to take over territory vacated by the rebels.