The East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) has denied claims of fresh clashes between the M23 armed group and Burundi forces.
Addressing a press briefing in Goma, EACRF Commander Maj-Gen Jeff Nyagah added that for the last one month, there have been no clashes reported between the Democratic Forces for The Liberation of Rwanda (FDRL) and the M23.
“We have no evidence that Burundi EAC contingent engaged the M23 because to our understanding, Sake has been verified as an area that M23 vacated,” he said.
But he said it is true that there was an incident in an area called Jerusalem, 13 kilometres from Sake, where a Burundi contingent on patrol came under attack.
“They conducted themselves in a very professional way and were able to capture seven members of armed group. There were no casualties on their part,” he added.
He said the suspects were brought to the force's headquarters in Goma and were handed over to the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM) for processing, with the direct involvement of the DRC government.
“The joint mechanism will interrogate and identify which armed group they belong to. As a force headquarter, we do not interrogate people, we don’t hold people in custody here, we do not have a prison. We respect the territorial sovereignty of DRC,” he said.
Asked whether there are chances that M23 could be withdrawing strategically in order to regroup and start fresh attacks, the general said there has been no evidence of that.
“We are at a very critical stage of ensuring that there is total compliance with the DRC’s heads of state decision for having M23 withdraw from the current areas that they occupy. From the intelligence we have gathered and the surveillance we are conducting, there is no evidence that M23 are posturing to instigate attacks but we are exercising an abundance of caution because of the complexity of the environment and are keeping an eye on every step and move that the M23 are undertaking,” he explained.
Gen Nyagah expressed optimism that with the political process and the goodwill of the DRC government as well as its people, the regional force will help the region enjoy long-term peace.
“This conflict has been here for far too long and we are quite optimistic that with all concerted efforts by the regional and international communities but most importantly the goodwill and support by the government of DRC, we are making significant milestones towards that end,” he said.
But he noted that multiple dynamics like violence that springs up from local armed groups, diverse political interests plus logistical and communication challenges owing to the vast area that the force is mandated to cover poses a challenge that is being mitigated by mapping out key areas of focus.
EACRF attained full force status early this month with the deployment of South Sudan People’s Defence Forces troops just after the end of its first six-month tenure.
Its mandate envisages that each country floats its own budget to sustain its troops in eastern DRC, with Kinshasa supporting the running of the force headquarters in Goma.
The force is, however, sourcing for support through the AU and the UN to strengthen its capabilities.
“There are plans by the AU Security Council and other partner countries to see how best they can support EACRF. Also, there is a formal request that we have made to the UN Security Council to see how best EACRF can ride on the capability and capacity of Monusco in terms of logistics, medical evacuation and utilisation of those facilities and the surveillance assets that they have,” said the general.