The East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) in DR Congo has confirmed it will cease operations on Friday, December 8, after the Congolese government refused to renew its mandate.
The regional force, with troops from Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda, began its withdrawal on December 3, over a year since it was deployed to eastern DR Congo.
A meeting of EAC army chiefs held in Arusha, Tanzania, on December 6, adopted the regional force's exit plan, the EACRF said in a statement on Friday. The army chiefs recommended to the regional Defence Ministers that the regional force officially ceases its operations in eastern DR Congo, with effect from Friday, according to the statement.
''Troop Contributing Countries are to commence the withdrawal of forces from eastern [DR Congo] in line with the adopted exit plan,'' EACRF said.
Kenya has already withdrawn 300 personnel. South Sudan was expected to also withdraw 287 troops on Friday.
''Subsequently, the remaining EACRF troops, including Uganda and Burundi contingents, will continue their withdrawal and backloading of equipment by air and road respectively, from 8th December 2023 to 7th January 2024.''
The last component to leave will be the EACRF Headquarters, which are located in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
The regional force earlier said it would hand its positions over to troops from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which are expected in eastern DR Congo by the end of December.
The regional force was deployed in November 2022 to support peace efforts and especially observe the withdrawal of the M23 rebel group, which battled the Congolese army and its allies in North Kivu.
Concerns regarding ongoing clashes
It had occupied positions vacated by M23 to allow for a negotiated peace process.
The waring parties, which had a fragile ceasefire since November 2022, resumed hostilities on October 1, threatening to thwart regional peace efforts.
The army chiefs ''raised concerns regarding the ongoing clashes in the joint operation area where EACRF troops are deployed'' and urged the Congolese army (FARDC), M23 and other armed groups ''to cease hostilities in order to allow the peace processes to continue their mission of finding a lasting solution to the security challenges,'' the regional force said.
The regional force's exit comes following disagreements with the Congolese government on the implementation of its mandate and its first force commander Maj Gen Jeff Nyagah resigned, in April, citing threats to his security.
Kinshasa wanted the regional force to fight the M23, which was not part of the latter's operational mandate.
As its withdrawal continues, the EACRF said the Congolese government ''assured the contingents of their commitment to ensure the force enjoys security and necessary assistance during movement to respective transit locations, Goma International Airport and through border posts.''
Eastern DR Congo, which is home to more than 130 local and foreign armed groups, has been volatile for nearly three decades.
Multiple interventions, including one by the United Nations longest and largest peacekeeping missions, MONUSCO, failed to end the decades of violence.
The 25-year-old UN mission also plans to withdraw its troops starting from December.