Kenyan soldiers have landed in the city of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as part of a regional peacekeeping mission to the region.
Their arrival on Saturday comes as the M23 rebel group has surged across the DRC’s North Kivu province, capturing swaths of territory and inflaming regional tensions.
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This week, Kenya’s Parliament approved the deployment of about 900 soldiers to the DRC as part of a joint military force from the East African Community (EAC) bloc.
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from Goma airport, said two Kenyan transport planes arrived and about 60 soldiers disembarked.
More than 120 armed groups are active in the DRC’s volatile east, many of which are a legacy of regional wars which flared at the turn of the century.
The M23, a mostly Congolese Tutsi group, first came to prominence in 2012, briefly capturing Goma before being driven out.
After lying dormant for years, the group took up arms again in late 2021, claiming Kinshasa had failed to honour a pledge to integrate them into the army, among other grievances.
M23 rebels have won a string of victories against the Congolese army in North Kivu in recent weeks, dramatically increasing the territory under their control.
Their resurgence has cratered relations between the DRC and its smaller neighbour Rwanda, which Kinshasa accuses of backing the M23. Kigali denies the accusation.
Al Jazeera’s Webb said the first arrivals were expected to be part of a larger force sent by Nairobi.
“Kenya says it’s going to send a battalion of around 900 soldiers. This is a tiny number when you consider the vast territories controlled by armed groups in the eastern DR Congo, or compared to the UN peacekeeping force which has at times had as many as 20,000 soldiers and has failed to stabilise the region,” he said.
“People are waiting to find out what these Kenyan troops will actually do, and whether they will join in the DR Congo army’s fight against M23.”
There was heavy fighting between the army and the M23 in Rugari in North Kivu on Friday and power was disrupted in Goma, an important commercial hub of about one million people.
Diplomatic efforts are also under way to ease tensions in the eastern DRC. Angolan President Joao Lourenco visited Rwanda on Friday and was due in the DRC on Saturday.
Kenya’s former President Uhuru Kenyatta is also expected in the DRC’s capital for talks on Sunday.