East Africa leaders extend regional troop mandate in DR Congo

Regional bloc says soldiers to stay until December 8 as local opposition grows to peacekeepers and tensions between DRC and Rwanda simmer.

A Congolese soldier escorting a convoy of Kenya's defence forces, sitting atop car wearing red knitted hat and green uniform, leaning back and smiling
A DRC soldier escorting peacekeepers with the East African Community Regional Force rides in a convoy in Goma in the eastern DRC [File: Ben Curtis/AP Photo]

East African leaders have agreed to extend the mandate of a regional military force deployed to quell violence in the strife-torn east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The seven-nation East African Community (EAC) first sent troops into the volatile region in November after the resurgence of the M23 rebel group.

An EAC statement issued on Tuesday after a summit in Nairobi said the heads of state had agreed to extend the duration of the mandate for the regional force to December 8, pending an evaluation report.

The future of the deployment had been in doubt after DRC President Felix Tshisekedi criticised the force, but in June, the EAC decided to keep the troops on the ground for another three months.

Dozens of armed groups plague the mineral-rich eastern DRC, a legacy of regional wars that raged in the 1990s and 2000s.

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

The group has seized swathes of territory in North Kivu province since taking up arms again in late 2021 after years of dormancy. The EAC force has taken over some areas previously occupied by M23 but has so far failed to end the conflict.

That failure has led to demonstrations in Goma over the EAC deployment and a UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC. One demonstration turned violent last week when a crackdown by security agencies led to the deaths of 56 people.

The DRC has repeatedly accused its much smaller neighbour Rwanda, an EAC member, of backing the rebels. The United States and several other Western countries as well as independent UN experts have also concluded that Rwanda is backing the rebels.

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.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies