On Sunday, South Sudanese troops entered the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, joining a regional military force in a territory severely affected by the M23 uprising.
In the late morning, at least 45 troops arrived in the city of Goma; additional contingents are anticipated at a later time. The seven-nation East African Community (EAC) military group, which was established last June to stabilize eastern DRC, includes soldiers from South Sudan.
Numerous armed groups plague much of the area as a result of local conflicts that erupted in the 1990s and 2000s.
Since coming out of hibernation in late 2021, M23 rebels in North Kivu province have seized vast swaths of land and moved within a few dozen kilometers of its capital Goma.
The EAC force, which consists of South Sudanese, Kenyan, Burundian, and Ugandan soldiers, is expected to oversee the M23 rebels’ anticipated retreat.
Numerous armed organizations plague much of the area as a result of ongoing regional conflicts.Colonel Jok Akech, an official with the EAC force, greeted the new South Sudanese arrivals with “Welcome to Goma.”
“At this point, your operational world has changed. You must be prepared. The size and deployment location of the South Sudanese troops are still unknown. South Sudan announced in December that it would deploy 750 troops to the DRC in the 1990s and 2000s.
Since coming out of hibernation in late 2021, M23 rebels in North Kivu province have seized vast swaths of land and moved within a few dozen kilometers of its capital Goma. The EAC contingent, which is made up of Ugandan, Burundian, and Kenyan troops,
The M23 first came to international prominence in 2012 when it captured Goma, before being driven out and going to ground.
But the Tutsi-led group re-emerged from dormancy in late 2021, arguing that the government had ignored a promise to integrate its fighters into the army.
It then won a string of victories against the Congolese army and captured large chunks of North Kivu, triggering a humanitarian crisis as hundreds of thousands of people fled its advance.
Several regional initiatives intended to defuse the conflict have failed.
A ceasefire mediated by Angola was due to take effect on March 7, for example, but collapsed almost immediately.
March 30 was supposed to mark the end of the withdrawal of “all armed groups”, according to a timetable adopted in mid-February by the EAC.
The deadline was not respected.
The EAC force commander, Kenyan General Jeff Nyagah, told reporters on Friday that the planned M23 withdrawal would be “sequenced”.
Although initially greeted with enthusiasm, many Congolese are increasingly critical of the EAC force because of dashed hopes that regional troops would take the fight directly to the M23.
On Sunday, the spokesman for the newly deployed Ugandan contingent Captain Kato Ahmad Hassan said the troops will be a “neutral force and we will not fight the M23”.
M23 fighters are expected to withdraw from the areas occupied by the Ugandan military under the plan, he said.
The rebel group remains in control of substantial areas of North Kivu and has almost completely surrounded Goma, which has Rwanda to its east and Lake Kivu to its south.
The DRC accuses its smaller neighbour Rwanda of backing the M23, something the United States, several other Western countries and independent UN experts agree with, but which Kigali denies.
Although there has been no major fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 for several weeks, fighting has been with rival militias and insecurity remains rampant.
Fourteen people were killed in separate attacks in North Kivu over the weekend, in circumstances that remain unclear, according to residents, local officials and medical sources.