Defence chiefs from the East African Community (EAC) member states have directed the immediate deployment of troops from countries yet to join the regional force in Goma, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The military bosses who met in Nairobi this week in the presence of the EAC Secretariat followed the bloc’s head of State’s directive last week to have forces on the ground but based on a timeline agreed on by the security chiefs.
In addition, they agreed to deploy troops to areas earmarked for M23 phased withdrawal and the protection of civilians in areas vacated by the rebels.
Although the finer details of the outcome of the meeting have yet to be shared, the chairperson and Burundi’s Chief of the Defence Force, General Prime Niyogambo, expressed hope that the deliberations will contribute towards creating lasting peace and stability in Eastern DRC.
“I am optimistic that the deployment of the remaining East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) contingent will expedite the regional forces to deliver on its mandate,” the chairperson stated.
The force was deployed as a peace enforcement unit but is yet to get the nod to engage the armed rebel groups since the regional leaders prefer political dialogue, placing combat as a last resort.
But piling pressure offensive against M23 and the fluid security dynamics that led to the killing of a United Nations peacekeeper from South Africa in an attack on their helicopter on Sunday could lead to a change in strategy in the approach to end the conflict in the region.
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Currently, only Kenya has sent its troops to the eastern DRC under EACRF, with Ugandan and South Sudanese forces deployment allegedly dragged by delay in the issuance of permits by Kinshasa.
During the EAC 20th Extra-Ordinary Summit last Saturday, the presidents urged DRC to facilitate the deployment of troops from South Sudan and Uganda to the regional force.
Staffing officers from the Rwandan Defence Forces serving at the EACRF headquarters in Goma were expelled a week ago, as tensions flared following Rwanda’s shooting of a Congolese fighter jet at the border. However, no other decision has been made regarding the pull-out of Rwanda from EACRF.
The rest of the Rwandan contingent has been situated at its border with DRC, as with the Burundi, Uganda and South Sudan forces.
Since the start of its mission in November, the EACRF troops have secured the Goma International Airport and offered protection for internally displaced persons and areas vacated by the M23 -- Kibati, Kibumba and Rumagambo.
The Kenyan troops have also secured the Bunagana-Kiwanja-Rutshuru-Goma route, aided humanitarian assistance through Medicap and escort of humanitarian aid, and conducted joint patrols and training with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC).