Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta called for the urgent deployment of a new regional military force in an effort to end rebel bloodshed in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Congo joined the East African Community (EAC) this year. In April, the EAC’s seven member states agreed to establish a combined force but did not specify when it would be deployed.
Kenyatta stated in a statement that the East African Regional Force will be sent immediately to the Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu provinces to stabilise the area and impose peace in support of the DRC security forces and in close collaboration with MONUSCO.
His statement comes against the backdrop of a significant attack by the M23 rebel group in eastern Congo, which captured a crucial town on the Ugandan border on Monday.
The onslaught by the M23, whose previous major insurgency conquered large portions of the eastern Congo countryside in 2012 and 2013, has reignited tensions between Congo and neighbouring Rwanda. Congo accuses Rwanda of aiding the M23, which includes sending its own troops over the border. Rwanda disagrees.
The actual makeup of the EAC force, including whether Rwandan troops will be included, has not been disclosed.
Rwanda and Uganda invaded Congo twice in the 1990s, sparking conflicts that drew in more than a half-dozen neighbouring nations, cost millions of people, and produced active militias.
Kenya stated that preparations for the deployment will be finalised on Sunday during a meeting of regional commanders in Nairobi.
From Kenyatta’s comments, it was unclear whether Congo had approved the deployment. The Congolese government could not be reached immediately for comment.
Last year, Uganda dispatched troops to eastern Congo to conduct joint operations with Congolese forces against an active Ugandan Islamist militia in the districts of North Kivu and Ituri.