Presidents of East African countries have responded to the threat of an all-out war between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by ordering an immediate cease-fire and agreeing to deploy a new regional force in the restless area.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta hosted his counterparts Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, South Sudan’s Salva Kiir, DRC’s Felix Tshisekedi, and Burundi’s Evariste Ndayishiniye in Nairobi on Monday. Tanzania was represented by her high commissioner to Kenya John Simbachawene.
A briefing from State House, Nairobi, after the leaders’ meeting, didn’t give details on the date of the force’s deployment or its actual composition.
“The Heads of State deliberated on the security situation in the eastern DRC and on measures to promote peace, stability, and development in the eastern DRC and the greater East African region,” the statement read in part.
“Heads of State instructed that the regional force should in cooperation with the military and administrative forces of the DRC seek to stabilize and secure the peace in the DRC. The regional force should also cooperate in the implementation of the disarmament and demobilization process,” it added.
The regional force will be constituted as an East African Community force under the EAC Protocol on Peace and Security and the EAC Treaty Article 124 on regional peace and security and Article 125 on cooperation in defence, the joint communique explained.
Congo’s presidency later tweeted that the force should be operational in the coming weeks but shouldn’t include Rwandan troops.
The regional Heads of State, however, adopted “for immediate implementation” the status of forces agreement, concept of operations, and rules of engagement, the statement said.
The presidents urged the force to cooperate with Congolese forces to help stabilize the region.
There was no direct mention of Rwanda, which Congo has long accused of supporting the M23 rebel group that has carried out renewed attacks in recent months.
Rwanda, however, denies supporting the M23 rebels, who captured a key town in eastern Congo last week. The M23 rebels’ leadership hails from the Tutsi ethnic group.
Last week, the rebels seized the eastern border town of Bunagana, sending over 30,000 refugees into Uganda.
Congo accused Rwanda of trying to occupy the country’s land for its vast mineral wealth, hours after Kigali said a Congolese soldier had crossed the border shooting at Rwandan security forces and civilians before being shot dead. DRC closed its border with Rwanda soon after.
Mr Tshisekedi has also urged global leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to intensify diplomatic pressure on Rwanda especially when Kigali hosts members of the Commonwealth this week.
Congo has for long been accusing both Uganda and Rwanda of supporting rebel groups operating in EAC’s latest member country, and for pursuing her rich mineral wealth, including gold.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was concerned about deteriorating security in eastern Congo, including M23 attacks. The region has seen near-constant conflict since Rwanda and Uganda invaded twice in the 1990s.