East African leaders to hold talks on DR Congo unrest

President of Kenya William Ruto when he arrived in Burundi on February 4, 2023.

Photo credit: Pool

East African leaders were heading to Burundi on Saturday for a regional summit called to discuss the raging conflict in eastern DR Congo.

The talks are being hosted in Bujumbura by the East Africa Community, which is leading mediation efforts to end the resurgent fighting in the restive east of the giant central African nation.

"Agenda: Evaluation of the Security Situation in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo & Way Forward," the EAC said on Twitter on Friday as it announced the extraordinary summit.

A Congolese presidency official said Friday that President Felix Tshisekedi would be attending.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, which is accused of backing rebel groups in the east, has arrived in Bujumbura, an airport source said, with several other EAC heads of state also there.

The meeting is being held shortly after a visit by Pope Francis to Kinshasa, where he met victims of the conflict and condemned the "inhumane violence" and "brutal atrocities" taking place.

Militias have plagued the mineral-rich region for decades, many of them a legacy of regional wars that flared during the 1990s and the early 2000s. 

Since November 2021, a rebel group known as M23 has seized chunks of territory in the east and come within miles of its main commercial hub Goma. 

The DRC accuses its smaller central African neighbour Rwanda of backing the M23, something UN experts, the United States and other Western countries agree with. 

Kigali denies the charge. 

Last week, Qatar had planned to host a meeting between Tshisekedi and Kagame, but diplomats said the Congolese leader refused to attend.

Tensions between the two countries were exacerbated last week when Rwandan forces opened fire at a Congolese fighter jet they said had violated Rwandan airspace.

Kinshasa described it as an attack that amounted to "an act of war".

The EAC decided to create a military force to pacify eastern Congo last year, with the first troops arriving in Goma in November. 

The soldiers are permitted to use force to dislodge M23 fighters but they have not yet done so.

The EAC groups Burundi, the DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. 

Kenya's former president Uhuru Kenyatta, who is mediating on behalf of the EAC, last month voiced concern over the "sharply deteriorating" situation in the east.