E. African forces to “enforce peace” in eastern DRC

Kenyan President William Ruto said on Monday that East African forces will “enforce peace” in the embattled east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the M23 armed group has launched an offensive.

Kenyan forces, who have been deployed as part of the East African Group (EAC) force, arrived in the volatile region on 12 November.

Speaking at a news conference in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ruto said the regional force would “impose peace on those who desperately seek to destabilize”.

The March 23 Movement, a militia of Congolese Tutsis, has captured large swaths of land across North Kivu province, moving towards the region’s main city of Goma.

The fighting has reignited regional tensions, with the DRC accusing its smaller neighbor Rwanda of supporting the March 23 Movement, something UN experts and US officials have also said in recent months.

Kigali denies supporting the M23 and accuses Kinshasa of collusion with the FDLR – a former Rwandan Hutu rebel group founded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda.

The March 23 Movement catapulted to prominence for the first time in 10 years when it captured Goma in 2012, before ousting it and going underground.

But it resurfaced late last year, claiming that the DRC had failed to live up to its pledge to integrate its fighters into the army, among other grievances.

Also read: Rwanda joins the DRC rebels’ call for a ceasefire – Kenyatta

Kenya is sending about 900 soldiers to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as part of the joint East African Community force set up to help restore security.

Ruto said he was aware there were already peacekeepers in eastern DRC – a reference to the thousands-strong UN force – but noted that the East African forces would be more powerful.

“From what we’re seeing in the region, we don’t think there is much peace to keep,” he said.

– Political dialogue –

Arriving in Goma on November 16, Kenyan General Jeff Nyaga, commander of the East African Community force, also said that the East African operation would be an “intervention force”.

But he stressed that the priority is to find a political solution to the instability in eastern DRC, as well as the disarmament of militias.

Peace talks under the auspices of the seven-nation East African Community were due to begin in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on Monday, but when they will begin remains unclear.

Ruto told reporters on Monday that the EAC heads of state, in their joint mandate for the regional force, agreed that the task was to ensure peace as well as its implementation.

He said the mandate had been communicated to the African Union and the United Nations Security Council.

The force is expected to include soldiers from Burundi, Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya. But the intended total size remains unclear.

Also read: M23 rebels advance in eastern DRC

The UN peacekeeping force in eastern DRC, known as MONUSCO, has a current strength of about 16,000 uniformed personnel.

But many in the DRC see the peacekeepers as ineffective.

Last week, the United Nations estimated that at least 262,000 people had been displaced by the fighting.

The M23 is just one of about 120 armed groups operating in eastern Congo.

Many are legacies of the regional wars that took place before the turn of the century.

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