On Tuesday, a soldier from the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) was tragically killed in Kibumba, located in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, during an ambush by rebel forces. Although the authorities in North Kivu did not immediately reveal the soldier’s identity or nationality, a spokesperson attributed the attack on the EACRF to the rebel group M23.
Lieutenant Colonel Kaiko Ndjike, the spokesperson for the Congolese army in North Kivu, disclosed that “the M23 attacked with mortar fire, resulting in the death of a peacekeeper from the East African Community Regional Force on Tuesday.”
In a statement, the Congolese army explained that, “After facing the determination of the FARDC (Congolese army) on the morning of Tuesday, when they attacked one of our positions, the M23, supported by the Rwandan army, directed their mortar fire at the advanced positions of the EACRF, with the aim of accusing the FARDC of being the perpetrators of the said fire and thus attracting the good graces and sympathy of the Regional Force, obviously creating a misunderstanding between the latter and the loyal forces of the DRC.”
The M23 did not immediately respond to the accusation. This marks the first loss for the EACRF, which deployed in November of the previous year. The force has typically focused on safeguarding civilian areas rather than engaging in direct combat with rebel groups in eastern DRC.
Nonetheless, this recent ambush, the second in a week targeting the EACRF, may suggest a heightened threat to their positions. The EACRF comprises troops from Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, and Burundi.
The Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda have frequently accused each other of supporting rebel groups that threaten their respective security interests, though both sides deny these allegations. The situation could indicate renewed tensions between neighboring countries that share ethnic ties in some border communities.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Congolese army had accused M23 of “breaking the ceasefire by attacking FARDC positions in Virunga Park” in North Kivu. In response, Ndjike warned that “In the face of this provocation, all measures have been taken by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo to respond to all eventualities.”
Kinshasa, on the other hand, stated on Tuesday that it “respects the agreements of the Heads of State resulting from the Luanda and Nairobi agreements,” which call for a ceasefire between M23 and the Congolese army.
Recent clashes near Goma on Monday led to accusations from the Congolese army that M23 had killed civilians. M23 has argued in the past that they have the right to defend themselves, accusing FARDC of using allied rebels to attack them.
Over the past month, there has been almost daily intense fighting between the M23 rebels and the armed Wazalendo self-defense groups.
The East African regional force was originally deployed to assist the DRC in achieving peace but has had to contend with more than 100 armed groups.
In early October, Kinshasa announced that it would not renew the mandate of the EACRF once it expires on December 8.
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