DR Congo Won’t Extend Regional Force Mandate: EAC

East African leaders said Saturday that the Democratic Republic of Congo has decided not to renew the mandate of a regional force sent to quell unrest in the volatile east of the country.

The East African Community (EAC) first deployed troops in the violence-plagued region in November last year after the resurgence of the M23 rebel group.

But a statement issued after an EAC summit in Tanzania on Friday said the grouping “noted that the DRC will not extend the mandate of the EAC regional force beyond 8th December 2023.”

The leaders directed defense force chiefs from the EAC and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to meet before December 8 “and submit their recommendations on the way forward to the defense ministers for onward transmission to the summit for consideration.”

The future of the deployment had been in doubt after DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi criticized the force, but the EAC decided in September to keep the troops on the ground until next month.

Dozens of armed groups plague the mineral-rich eastern DR Congo, a legacy of regional wars that raged in the 1990s and 2000s.

The Tutsi-led M23 has seized swathes of territory in North Kivu province since taking up arms again in late 2021 after years of dormancy.

According to the United Nations, 450,000 people have been forced to flee their homes over the past six weeks, of whom 200,000 are cut off from humanitarian aid.

Almost seven million displaced people live in the DRC, mostly in the east.

DR Congo has repeatedly accused its much smaller neighbor Rwanda, an EAC member, of backing the rebels, a charge Kigali denies.

The United States and several other Western countries, as well as independent UN experts, have also concluded that Rwanda is backing the rebels.

At Friday’s summit, the EAC admitted Somalia to the grouping — joining Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

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