The East African Community (EAC) regional force yesterday morning began its withdrawal from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) after Kinshasa deemed it ineffective and refused to renew its mandate.
The regional bloc first deployed troops in the violence-plagued region in November last year after the resurgence of the M23 rebel group.
DR Congo authorities at the time invited the EAC to deploy its forces to free the areas taken by the rebels.
That deployment was thrown into doubt after Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi accused the force of cohabiting with the rebels rather than forcing them to lay down arms.
Following a summit on Nov. 25, the EAC announced that the DR Congo would not renew the mandate of the regional force beyond Friday.
A first group of about 100 Kenyan soldiers from the regional force — which also includes Ugandan, Burundian and South Sudanese soldiers — left from Goma International Airport bound for Nairobi, said a spokesman for the force on the ground who did not provide more detail on further withdrawals.
Agence France-Presse journalists saw their plane taking off shortly after 5am.
Fighting continues between the M23 group and the DR Congo army, supported by militia who call themselves “patriots.”
On Oct. 24, a Kenyan soldier from the regional force was killed by shrapnel.
Numerous armed groups and other militias have been active for three decades in the east of the DR Congo, a legacy of the regional wars that broke out during the 1990s and 2000s.
The UN stabilization mission to the DR Congo, MONUSCO, has been present in the country since 1999, in addition to the EAC’s force, but it has also been accused of ineffectiveness, with Kinshasa calling for its “accelerated” departure from January.
MONUSCO comprises about 14,000 peacekeepers, deployed almost exclusively in the east of the country.
General elections are scheduled for Dec. 20 in the DR Congo, a vast country of about 100 million inhabitants.
Tshisekedi, in power since 2019, is standing for a second five-year term, but due to the ongoing fighting against M23, the elections would not be held in two territories in eastern North Kivu province.
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