The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) will today deploy the remaining troops and equipment set for the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF)’s peace enforcement mission in eastern Congo as it prepares to venture deeper into the region within the timelines set out in Angola this week.
The soldiers, who have been training at Moi Barracks in Eldoret, will join their colleagues at the EACRF headquarters in Goma before delving into Bunagana, Rutshuru and Kiwanja areas that have been under M23 occupation. EACRF has so far secured critical infrastructure in Goma, including an airport and the surrounding areas, in addition to providing protection to internally displaced persons.
A communiqué from the Luanda process gave the M23 rebels 48 hours to withdraw from the three locations, failing which the East African Community (EAC) heads of state will authorise the use of force to compel the group to comply. The full deployment of Kenya’s battalion signals the country’s readiness for the mission, even as participating nations commit to the operation within set timelines.
At the moment, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda have fully deployed their soldiers to different locations. Uganda is expected to have fully deployed by month’s end, while South Sudan, which has deployed its staffing officers, is expected to complete its full deployment by December 20.
Tanzania’s commitment to deploying troops under EACRF remains unclear, but its support for the mission is ongoing under the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monusco) brigade, which is now working closely with EARF in securing the region.
The country will, however, be sending a senior military official in the rank of a major general to the EAC headquarters to act as the EACRF’s liaison/adviser to the secretary-general.
EACRF’s Commander Major General Jeff Nyagah this week called on the armed groups to adhere to the calls outlined in the communiqué from the Luanda process, which set stringent timelines for them to de-escalate and retreat from some of the occupied zones. The communiqué also demanded an immediate cessation of support to M23, FDLR and all other rebel groups operating in eastern Congo and called on them to down their arms and initiate unconditional reparation under the terms of the Nairobi process within five days.
This, if adhered to, will set the stage for the return of the IDPs to their homes and the resumption of political consultations between the government and local armed groups. If not adhered to, Major General Nyagah said, EACRF will use force as plans are at an advanced stage to deploy more troops on the front lines in the coming days. Additionally, starting Monday, Kenya will host an inter-Congolese dialogue between government officials, community leaders and different ethnic groups from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of the Nairobi process.
The meeting will be attended by former President Uhuru Kenyatta, the leader of the Nairobi process, and officials from the EACRF. The Nairobi process is focused on talks between the rebels in the DRC, the local community and the government with a view to ending internal hostilities, while the Luanda process is aimed at mending the diplomatic tiff between Rwanda and the DRC.
Both are, however, fully aligned with the leaders of both processes working closely together to achieve their common goal.
Laying down of arms
A communiqué from its last Nairobi meeting on November 17 called for the immediate cessation of hostilities and restoration of peace and security in the region through voluntary laying down of arms by the rebels and engagement in dialogue under the EAC-led Nairobi process.
The same call was reiterated on Wednesday in Angola when the March 23 rebel group was given 48 hours to withdraw from their currently held positions.
The group is, however, yet to comply. For that reason, it will not attend the Inter-Congolese dialogue in Nairobi. Efforts to ensure the success of the two political processes are in top gear as participating countries are not eager to go to war seeing that every communiqué released from the meetings has given the impression that going to war with the rebels shall be the last resort.
That said, however, time is running out for the rebels who have two days to leave Bunagana, Rutshuru and Kiwanja, where KDF soldiers are to form a buffer zone.
“If M23 does not withdraw the EAC Heads of States shall authorize the use of force to compel the group to comply,” an ultimatum contained in the communiqué released on Wednesday read.