Burundi National Defence Forces (BNDF) troops deployed under the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) have now taken over key locations in eastern DR Congo previously occupied by M23 rebels. These are Karuba, Mushaki, and Kirolirwe, which the troops have occupied following the completion of ongoing reconnaissance and verification of the armed group’s withdrawal.
According to a statement issued by the regional force on Thursday, BNDF troops are expected to deploy to Kitchanga.
“M23 has withdrawn from Sake, Karuba, Mushaki, Neenero, Kirolirwe, Kibirizi, Mweso, and adjacent areas in accordance with the decision of the East African Community heads of state mini-summit held on February 17th, 2023 in Addis Ababa, marking a significant milestone in the ongoing phased withdrawal,” the EACRF said.
The deployment of BNDF troops began on March 5 and concluded last week when the final batch was airlifted to Goma International Airport by KDF soldiers on March 15.
“On Tuesday, 21 March 2023, a Joint Bureau comprised of the Ad Hoc Verification Mechanism (AVM), EACRF, Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM), and East Africa Community Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (EACMVM) verified the M23 withdrawal and observance of the ceasefire within theatre, marking a very significant milestone towards restoring peace and stability in Eastern DRC,” the statement added.
The withdrawal and subsequent deployment of the EACRF have resulted in a significant number of internally displaced people returning to their homes.
The deployment of troops has facilitated humanitarian assistance in the vacated areas and opened up the main supply route from Sake to Kitchanga through Kirolirwe, where trucks, lorries, and motorcycles can be seen facilitating the free movement of people and goods.
Second, troops will be deployed.
Following the deployment of the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) in November last year, Burundi is the second country to send troops to the Eastern DRC under the EACRF.
Their deployment in the areas continues in accordance with the repositioning recommended by the East African Community Chiefs of Defence Forces/Chiefs of Staff meeting on February 9, 2023, in Nairobi, transforming the Masisi and Rutshuru territories into a multinational sector.
Kenyan forces will be deployed in Kibumba, Rumaghabo, Tongo, Kishishe, and Bwiza as a result of the new boundaries.
They will also work alongside South Sudan forces at the Rumaghabo temporary operating base. Ugandan forces will control Banagana, Kiwanja, and Mabega, while Burundi forces will control Kitchanga and Sake.
Yet to be deployed
However, Uganda and South Sudan have yet to send troops. Meanwhile, M23 has accused the Congolese army — FARDC — of using the areas it has vacated as a provocation to attack the group’s positions and other densely populated areas.
“The M23 recognises the never-ending efforts of regional leaders and international partners to bring peace to Eastern DRC; therefore, it urges the DRC government to stop ignoring these efforts and to play its part in bringing peace.”
“Our organisation reiterates its commitment to resolving the ongoing conflict peacefully through direct dialogue with the DRC government to address the root causes of the conflicts.” M23 Spokesperson Lawrence Kanyuka said in a statement released Wednesday evening, “The M23 stands ready to defend itself and protect the civilian population and their belongings.”