The East African Community (EAC) contingent was sent to Congo in November 2022 to help oversee the promised withdrawal of the M23, a rebel group claiming to represent the interests of ethnic Tutsis, from areas it had seized eight months before.
But ongoing fighting with the M23 has contributed to spiralling insecurity in volatile eastern Congo, prompting repeated criticisms from Tshisekedi about the EAC not enforcing the militia’s withdrawal.
Following negotiations about the expiration of the force’s six-month mandate, Congo has agreed to extend it by three months and reassess the situation in June, Tshisekedi said in a speech during a state visit to Botswana on Tuesday evening.
“If by that time we estimate that the mandate has not been fulfilled, then we can decide to send the contingent on its way,” he said.
A spokesperson for the EAC force declined comment and directed questions to the bloc’s secretary-general, Peter Mathuki, who could not immediately be reached.
Their possible departure could presage the arrival of a different force from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
On Monday, an extraordinary SADC summit approved the deployment of such a contingent to help restore security in eastern Congo, but did not give a date for its arrival.
The strategic reshuffling highlights the difficulty of stabilising the eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, where Congo declared a state of siege two years ago to address worsening militia violence. Conflict has simmered and periodically flared up since the end of two regional wars between 1996 and 2003.
A southern African diplomat who attended the SADC summit told Reuters the SADC deployment was still in the planning stage with the mandate and deployment date yet to be finalised.
The SADC force is distinct from the U.N. Force Intervention Brigade to which a number of southern African countries have contributed troops.
The brigade contributed to the defeat of the M23 rebellion during a previous offensive in 2013 but is set to withdraw in 2024.
“During the first M23 war, it was the contribution of the SADC that was very decisive,” Congolese army spokesperson General Sylvain Ekenge said.
Angola, which is also part of the SADC, said in March it would send 500 troops to eastern DRC. They will arrive soon, Tshisekedi said.
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