ADDIS ABABA — A neutral international force could be deployed within the coming weeks in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Discussions about the force developed after rebel group M23 declared a unilateral ceasefire.
African ministers and international partners met on Tuesday at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa to discuss the best means to establish and deploy the force in the eastern DRC.
The Congolese rebels declared a unilateral ceasefire Tuesday ahead of the second round of peace talks in Uganda.
AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra says the force, known as the NIF, could be deployed within the coming weeks.
“We were informed that perhaps the commanding staff, the commanding officers, would be deployed in the next few weeks. Tanzania is contributing a battalion, and the general [who] will be the commanding officer is likely to come from Tanzania as well. SADC has mentioned that it is considering mobilizing its standby brigade,” Lamamra said.
Ministers of foreign affairs and defense from the Great Lakes region were present at the meeting where the mandate, size, funding and other issues relating to the international force were discussed. If the force becomes part of the already present United Nations force MONUSCO, the United Nations will most likely fund the deployment.
Commissioner Lamamra says the force will probably consist of one brigade.
“We are still working on the assumption that the NIF will be comprised of 4,000 troops. It is called a brigade. But more importantly we focused also on, what our generals call enablers and force-multipliers, that is helicopters, engineering units, things of that sort that make a difference in terms of efficiency on the ground,” Lamamra said.
The M23 rebels' ceasefire announcement Tuesday comes a week after the U.N. Security Council sanctioned the group and two of its leaders.
M23 rebels captured several cities in DRC in mid-November after grievances that the government did not implement the 2009 peace agreements to integrate the rebels into the Congolese army. The fighting has caused a humanitarian crisis and displaced over 800,000 people.
The eastern DRC is rich in minerals and has been mired in conflict for years, as various armed groups seek to exploit the mines for profit.