Burundi has become the first country to deploy troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part the recent decision by the East African Community for a joint mission against rebels.
A contingent of the Burundian army officially entered Congolese soil on Monday 15 August. And, according to the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), these soldiers will be deployed in the operational zone in the south of the province of South Kivu, in eastern DRC, to hunt down armed groups.
The Congolese army specified that this is within the framework of the joint forces, recently agreed on by the heads of state of the East African Community under the then chairmanship of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Until Monday, neither the troop contributors nor the actual timelines had been unknown.
The Burundian soldiers will be stationed at the Luberezi training centre, about 100km from Bukavu, the largest city in South Kivu.
In this area, coalitions of Mai-Mai armed groups on the one hand, and Twirwaneho and Gumino armed groups on the other, are fighting and carrying out a series of reprisals, killing civilians and looting livestock. There are also Burundian groups such as RED-Tabara that fight the power in Burundi from the DRC.
Officially, it was only on Monday 15 August that the Burundian army entered the DRC to hunt down foreign and local armed groups, but the Burundian armed group based in South Kivu, RED Tabara, has been reporting regularly since July this year on fighting between them and “a group of Burundian National Defence Force soldiers in South Kivu”.
A source in Bujumbura told The EastAfrican that RED Tabara “never attacked Burundi”.
According to Patrick Nahimana, military spokesman for the armed group, RED Tabara is calling for “the rehabilitation of the Arusha Agreement for peace and reconciliation”. The armed group accuses the United Nations, the African Union, the East African Community and the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region of “impotence in the face of the CNDD-FDD regime” in Burundi.
The source in Bujumbura replies that “negotiations with the Burundian government are impossible because this movement [RED Tabara] has no forces”.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, neither the duration of the Burundian army’s presence nor its strength has been communicated. The Congolese army “calls on the population to remain calm and to collaborate frankly with the loyalist forces in order to put an end to this activism by irregular forces”, said its spokesman in South Kivu, Lieutenant Marc Elonga.
He added that the Burundian contingent would be under the command of the Congolese army.