Burundi begins troops deployment in DRC
Burundi was the first country to send troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as part of an East African regional force aimed at putting an end to decades of unrest in the eastern DRC.
However, few details about the deployment have been released, and some security experts are concerned that Burundi, like other DRC neighbors, has its own security agenda. Burundi is the first of six East African regional forces (EAC) to send troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
According to Great Lakes Region security analyst Dismas Nkunda, the deployment of EAC troops is possible in conjunction with the deployment of Burundi troops.
“It’s a welcome idea because we had a suspicion that most countries in the region, such as Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, had an interest in DRC, and thus we had thought the only countries that might have deployed without conflict of interest would have been Tanzania, South Sudan, and Kenya,” he said.
“However, now that Burundi has done it, it is almost certain that an EAC peacekeeping operation will take place at some point.”
Following the emergence of the rebel group M23, the East African integration bloc agreed in June to send thousands of troops to help quell the violence in the region. M23 suspected rebels killed civilians and destroyed a hydropower plant under construction in North Kivu’s Virunga national park on Wednesday.
It is unclear what structures the EAC regional force led by Kenya will put in place to defeat rebel groups such as M23 and other militia formations in the country. According to a report released late last year by the Burundi Human Rights Initiative, Burundi secretly sent hundreds of troops into the DRC to combat a weakened armed group known as Red Tabara, which carried out attacks within Burundi.
Imbonerakure, the youth wing of Burundi’s ruling party, is accused of widespread atrocities against political opponents and the Burundi people. Carina Tertsakian of the Burundi Human Rights Initiative is concerned that the regional mission lacks a clear mandate.
“The main goal of the unofficial Burundi military operation in the DRC was to pursue that rebel group,” she explained. “Now, in the context of the regional force, it’s unclear what will happen, and not just in Burundi.”
Other countries are rumored to be sending troops as well. So, will each of these forces be allowed to do whatever they want and hunt down their specific opponents? In Burundi, this will be Red Tabara, and it will essentially be a continuation of what they have been doing for the past eight months.”
The Kinshasa government has expressed its displeasure with the alleged involvement of the neighboring country in the armed conflict in Ituri, North, and South Kivu provinces. Congo has a formal agreement with Uganda to allow troops to fight alongside its military against the armed group ADF.
DRC President Felix Tshisekedi thanked the Southern African Development Community for its support of Rwanda during a speech this week at the summit in Kinshasa. Kinshasa does not want Rwanda to participate in the deployment because of its support for M23, which Kigali denies.
Tertsakian believes Burundi is also responsible for the violence in eastern DRC.
“So there have been these kinds of tacit agreements, de facto agreements on the part of Congolese to allow Burundians to go in there and do whatever they want,” she explained. “[The] concern is that, unlike Kenya or Tanzania, Burundi is a direct party to the conflict there.”
Despite Kinshasa’s rejection, Nkunda believes Rwanda will participate in the operation.
“If Burundi can now, given that it has Red Tabara in DR Congo, I am certain that even with M23 and the FDLR genocide whom Rwanda claims are in DRC, Rwanda can deploy, and I believe it is a matter of time,” he said.
Experts are concerned that human rights violations may occur as some forces pursue the rebel groups, and that there may be no accountability for addressing abuses.
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