East Africa leaders agree regional force to quell DR Congo crisis

The decision comes as fighting restarts in DRC’s northeast, with Kinshasa blaming Rwanda for backing the M23 rebels.

United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) peacekeepers patrol areas affected by the recent attacks by M23 rebels fighters Democratic Republic of Congo, March 29, 2022.
UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) peacekeepers patrol areas affected by M23 rebel attacks, March 29 [Djaffar Sabiti/Reuters]

Leaders of the East African Community (EAC) have agreed to send a regional force to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to quell the latest flare-up of violence that is sweeping across the northeast of the country.

The decision was made on Monday during an EAC summit in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. DRC President Felix Tshisekedi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame joined leaders of Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda as well as Tanzania’s ambassador to Kenya.

“The heads of state have instructed that the regional force, in cooperation with the DRC’s military and administrative forces, seek to stabilise and guarantee peace in DRC,” read the statement.

It also called for the enforcement of an “immediate ceasefire”.

The regional force received its operational mandate and outlined its operational structure, the statement said, without providing further details.

“The problems affecting the region like the crisis in Congo need a collective approach from all regional members of the East African Community,” said Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni after the meeting.

“We must insist on working together because these people have suffered a lot,” he added on Twitter.

His government has sent in troops to help Congolese forces fight the Allied Democratic Forces, an armed group blamed for thousands of deaths in eastern DRC and a string of bombings in the Ugandan capital Kampala.

The meeting comes as heavy fighting revives decades-old animosity between Kinshasa and Kigali, with the DRC blaming neighbouring Rwanda for the recent resurgence of the M23 militia.

Rwanda has repeatedly denied backing the rebels, while both countries have accused each other of carrying out cross-border shelling.

Tshisekedi has accused Rwanda of seeking “to occupy our land, rich in gold, coltan and cobalt, for their own exploitation and profit” and urged the international community to condemn Kigali.

He has urged Britain, in particular, to “pressure Rwanda to withdraw its troops from our land”, noting London’s controversial agreement to send asylum seekers to Kigali.

“Given the UK’s recent $150m immigration deal struck with Rwanda, we hope that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be able to leverage his influence,” Tshisekedi said.

Rwanda is due to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting this week.

The mineral-rich DRC is struggling to contain dozens of armed groups in the east of the vast nation, many of which are a legacy of two regional wars a quarter of a century ago.

The M23 or “March 23 Movement”, led primarily by Tutsis, leapt to global prominence in 2012 when it captured Goma, on the border with Rwanda. It was forced out shortly afterwards in a joint offensive by UN troops and the Congolese army.

The group took up arms again in late November, having accused the Kinshasa government of failing to respect a 2009 agreement that involved incorporating its fighters into the army.

Relations between Kinshasa and Kigali have been strained since the mass arrival of Rwandan Hutus accused of slaughtering Tutsis during the 1994 Rwanda genocide, in the DRC.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies