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East African force begins withdrawal from DRC

East African force begins withdrawal from DRC
SSPDF soldiers prepare to board a plane that will transport them to the DRC, at Juba airport, South Sudan, on April 3, 2023.   -  
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Samir Bol/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

Democratic Republic Of Congo

The withdrawal of the East African force (EAC-RF) deployed in the east of the DRC and whose renewal Kinshasa refused, deeming it ineffective, continued on Friday with the departure from Goma of some 250 South Sudanese soldiers, noted an AFP team.

Nearly 300 Kenyan soldiers from this force, whose mandate ends on December 8, had already left Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, last Sunday.

In fatigues, weapons in hand, the South Sudanese soldiers took off from Goma airport around 5:20 a.m. (3:20 a.m. GMT) bound for Juba. A second rotation is planned for later in the morning, indicating an EAC-RF source on site.

In addition to Kenyan and South Sudanese soldiers, the EAC-RF also includes Ugandan and Burundian soldiers.

The Ugandans and Burundians should also leave in the coming weeks, said the source on site. The officers will leave last. “The withdrawal will take place for a month, i.e. until January 7,” she added. The equipment will leave by road.

Ugandan and Burundian troops are also present in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo under bilateral agreements with Kinshasa.

EAC-RF soldiers began arriving in Goma in November 2022, about a year after the resurgence in North Kivu of the M23 rebellion ( "March 23 Movement" ) which, with the support of Rwanda according to numerous sources, has taken over large parts of the province.

The Congolese authorities then invited the EAC to deploy its force to liberate areas conquered by the rebels.

But the Congolese quickly became very critical of the EAC troops, accusing them of cohabiting with the rebels rather than forcing them to lay down their arms. At the end of an EAC summit on November 25, the regional organization announced that the DRC "would not renew the mandate of the regional force beyond December 8, 2023".

To replace it, Kinshasa is counting in particular on troops from the Southern African Community (SADC). A spokesperson for Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi mentioned the date of December 10 for the start of their deployment, which has not been confirmed at this stage by the SADC or by potential contributing countries.

The departure of the EAC-RF comes as fighting continues between the M23 and the Congolese army supported by so-called “patriotic” militiamen.

A UN mission, MONUSCO, formerly MONUC, has been present in the DRC since 1999. But it is also accused of ineffectiveness and Kinshasa is asking for its departure, "orderly" but "accelerated" , from January 2024.

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