The Democratic Republic of Congo has signaled it will be amenable for the longer stay of East African Community Regional Forces (EACRF) as long as they can force armed groups to respect the ceasefire.
The apparent climb-down emerged on Monday as President Felix Tshisekedi hosted his Burundian counterpart Evariste Ndiyishimiye, the current Chair of the East African Community.
And the meeting saw Tshisekedi, once a bitter critic of EACRF say there has been some positive engagements with regional leaders who now see the need for permanent ceasefire as a requirement for any peace talks with armed groups.
The Congolese leader did not expressly mention the end of the EACRF's mandate, which is supposed to expire at early September. But he did say that there is now a better response from the troop contributing countries.
“It's true that some days back, I expressed my certain annoyance at the behaviour of the East African regional force. But time has passed and the meetings have started being much tougher on the armed groups, just like the last one (on 24 August with the Defence ministers in Nairobi) in which our Deputy Prime Minister of Defence, Jean-Pierre Bemba, took part. “That meeting was much tougher on respecting the terms of the agreements reached through the Nairobi process, which is enriched by the Luanda roadmap".
Nairobi and Luanda processes are part of a regional project to force the parties involved in the Congolese conflict to observe a ceasefire, before embarking on the road to peace.
"Time will tell if those talks can be transformed into action because decisions have been taken and these decisions apply immediately. We need to commit the M23 to respecting the terms of these processes,” said Félix Tshisekedi.
Ndayishimiye said a Summit of the heads of state will be held soon to examine DRC’s demands.
The Congolese president said his country will use that meeting to express its views on the basis of the findings, namely whether the M23 would finally be allowed to go into cantonment.
The Congolese government has always taken the view that since March this year, the M23 has not really withdrawn from the conquered areas, even though there has been no fighting with the Congolese army for nearly six months. In Kinshasa, in the final joint communiqué signed by the DRC and Burundi, the two heads of state say that they "note and deplore the fact that the M23 does not have the will to disengage and go to the cantonment centres.”
Ndayishimiye and Tshisekedi "appealed to the region to assume its responsibilities and force the M23 to go into cantonment".
Although the Congolese president was less vehement about the EACRF, he nevertheless continued to deplore the "laxity" he felt was being shown by the Eastern bloc contingents, with the exception of the Burundian troops, who he felt were more active in Kivu. Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan are the other troop contributors to the EACRF.
“We are asking the EACRF to be more active, like the Burundian contingent, because in some places we continue to observe laxity on the part of the other contingents, who authorise the collection of taxes by the M23, which is totally illegal and unacceptable,” they said.
The two leaders said that, in addition to defence and security issues, on which they committed their two countries to work together more closely, the Burundian leader had visited Kinshasa to strengthen ties of cooperation.
They agreed to speed up an integration project, namely the construction of a bridge linking the Cibitoke Province in Burundi with South Kivu in the DRC. A railway is also to be built, linking Tanzania, Burundi and the DRC. Infrastructure projects should also include a road linking Bujumbura to Uvira and then Bukavu. In the commercial sphere, the two presidents have agreed to set up banking branches in Burundi and the DRC.