East African leaders extend troop mandate in east DR Congo

KDF soldiers attend a flag presentation ceremony before their deployment to the DRC

Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers attend a flag presentation ceremony by President William Ruto before their deployment to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of the East Africa Community Regional Force (EARDC) at the Embakasi Garrison in Nairobi on November 2, 2022.

Photo credit: Tony Karumba | AFP

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

The seven-nation East African Community (EAC) began the deployment last November with Kenyan soldiers arriving in the volatile region, followed this year by Burundian, Ugandan and South Sudanese contingents.

Its future had been in question, with DR Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi this month accusing troops of "cohabitation" with rebels and hinting the regional force could leave by the end of June.

But at a summit in Burundi on Wednesday, the EAC agreed to keep their troops on the ground until September 8 to consolidate "gains" made.

"The summit reiterated its call to all parties to de-escalate tensions and to use established regional, continental, international mechanisms to resolve any disputes in the implementation of peace in eastern DRC," said a statement.

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

One group, the M23, has seized swathes of territory in an uprising that has displaced over a million people since late 2021, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The EAC force has taken over some areas previously occupied by the M23 but has so far failed to thwart the insurgency. 

Kinshasa wants the force to have an "offensive" mandate to push back M23 fighters, and many residents have expressed disappointment that M23 continues to operate with impunity.

Earlier this month, southern African nations agreed to deploy their own troops to eastern DR Congo to restore peace and security.

The DR Congo has repeatedly accused its neighbour Rwanda, an EAC member, of backing the rebels, a charge Kigali denies.

The United States and several other Western countries, as well as independent UN experts, have also concluded that Rwanda is backing the rebels