East African leaders meeting in Kenya have agreed to deploy a Kenya-led regional security force to stop the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Weeks of fighting between DRC troops and rebels has raised tensions between the DRC and Rwanda. Congo accuses its neighbor of supporting the rebels, something Rwanda denies.
Seven countries in the East African Community regional bloc have given the green light for the standing EAC regional force to deploy its troops to the eastern DRC.
EAC leaders who met in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, Monday said they were committed to contributing to reconciliation and peace efforts in Congo’s volatile North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri provinces.
The areas have experienced decades of deadly fighting and, more recently, the emergence of the rebel group M23.
Kenya will lead the operation to pacify the region, which is home to dozens of rebel groups, some domestic, others with origins in Uganda and Rwanda.
The groups fight for control of territory and the region’s rich mines. Some fighters say they took up arms to protect their communities from other rebel groups.
Researcher and political analyst Ntanyoma Rukumbuzi said the EAC force must assure communities they will be safe.
“We need to see a military force that protects civilians by ending fighting, forcing combatants to lay down their guns,” he said. “We need a guarantee that a force is filling the vacuum where many of these armed groups have been working to protect their communities.”
Blaise Karege, a security researcher with web app Kivu Security Tracker, said the deployment of regional forces will not bring stability to Congo, noting that Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have sent troops in the past with little effect.
Karege said dialogue among Congolese would be of more help than having more troops in the country.
“Fighting won't end Congo’s problems. Peace talks would have helped,” he said. “We wouldn’t need a lot of money, people and effort, I think Congolese want to talk. Congolese can talk to each other; they don’t have to go back to Kenya.”
Some reports say Rwanda will not take part in the planned deployment. Kinshasa has accused Kigali of supporting M23, a claim denied by Rwanda.
M23 claims it is protecting the Tutsi minority in the eastern DRC. Since the Rwandan government is Tutsi-led, some Congolese government officials link the two.
There was no immediate word on how many EAC troops will be deployed to Congo or when they may arrive.
The EAC says the force will work with the Congolese army to disarm rebel groups and militias.
EAC leaders also called on Congo and Rwanda to stop using offensive language, hate speech and threats of genocide.