The seven countries of the East African Community (EAC) have announced that they have extended until September the mandate of their military force tasked with reducing violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

This force, composed of Kenyan, Ugandan, Burundian and South Sudanese soldiers, has been deployed gradually since November 2022 in response to an advance by M23 ("March 23 Movement") rebels in this region plagued by armed groups for nearly thirty years.

Her future has been in question, especially since Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi said in early May that she could be asked to leave the country at the end of June, just three months after her full deployment.

The mission of the regional force (EACRF) "is not fulfilled", he said, denouncing his complacency with "the terrorists of the M23", which he considers supported by Rwanda, also a member of the EAC.

But on Wednesday at a summit in Burundi, the seven EAC countries (Burundi, DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda) agreed to maintain troops until at least September 8, to consolidate the "progress" made on the ground, according to a statement from the organization.

"The summit again called on all parties to de-escalate tensions and use the regional, continental and international mechanisms in place to resolve all conflicts and move towards peace in eastern DRC," the text said.


DR Congo: Authorities denounce incomplete withdrawal of M23 © FRANCE24

Mass exodus of civilians

Dozens of armed groups have been operating in eastern DRC for decades, many inherited from the regional wars of the 1990s and 2000s. In North Kivu province, the M23 has seized large mineral-rich territories since November 2021, and continues to advance despite a peace roadmap agreed in Luanda, Angola, in July 2022.

According to the UN, more than a million people have fled the advance of the M23, supported by Rwandan army units, according to experts from the UN, the United States and other Western countries.

After the deployment of the EACRF, the M23 withdrew from some villages but remains present in others, including where the East African force is located.

The EACRF's mandate was initially perceived locally as "offensive", as Kinshasa wants, but the contributing countries later stressed that it was "neutral" and did not come to fight the rebels.

In early May, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) promised to send troops to eastern DRC, without specifying a date or number.

With AFP

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