The heads of the armed forces of the East African Community (EAC) met on Monday in Goma to discuss the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where clashes between the M23 rebel group and the army have displaced tens of thousands in recent weeks.
Representatives of the DRC, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and Tanzania, as well as the head of MONUSCO (UN mission in the DRC) attended the meeting.
Rwanda, which is also a member of the EAC, was absent.
One of the main aims of the meeting was to establish a regional joint force to contain and combat all “negative forces” destabilising the country.
“The process of setting up a sub-regional force to combat the negative forces should be initiated immediately by the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Celestin Mbala, head of the Congolese armed forces.
“All foreign armed groups active in the Democratic Republic of Congo to be disarmed and returned immediately and unconditionally to their respective countries of origin, otherwise they will also be considered as ‘negative forces’ and subject to military action by the sub-region,” Mbala added.
While the meeting was taking place, the Congolese army confirmed that two soldiers had been killed and five others were injured during clashes with the M23 in Rutshuru region, about 60 kilometres (378 miles) from Goma.
“Peace and security is of utmost importance and this is the very reason we are meeting here to find solutions to peace and security in this part of the Eastern African region,” said General Robert K Kibochi, head of Kenyan Armed Forces.
The M23 is largely an ethnic Tutsi group opposed to the Congo government that started in 2012 and seized control of Goma, a city of more than 1 million for nearly a month.
UN forces and Congo’s army dislodged the M23 from Goma and many of rebels fled to Rwanda and Uganda before a 2013 peace agreement.
Rwanda and Uganda denied claims that they supported M23.
The group has recently resurfaced with increasing attacks in eastern Congo.
It accuses the Congo government of not respecting the commitments it made to integrate rebel fighters into the national army.
The new wave of violence in Congo has displaced tens of thousands since May,most of them now living in shelters and churches in Goma, where a visit of the Pope is expected at the beginning of July.