KAMPALA/KINSHASA, Nov 21 (Reuters) – Uganda will send 1,000 troops to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo by the end of this month to join a regional force mandated to help end decades of instability, Kampala’s military said on Monday.
The seven countries of the East African Community (EAC), which Congo joined this year, agreed in April to set up a force to fight militia groups in Congo’s restive east.
Uganda will be the third country to deploy troops after contingents from Kenya and Burundi arrived in the area, Ugandan army spokesman Felix Kulayigye said, but their involvement has been opposed by some activist groups and officials because of Uganda’s role in Congo’s bloody civil wars.
In September, Uganda paid Congo $65 million, the first instalment of a total $325 million, in compensation for losses caused by Ugandan troops occupying Congolese territory in the 1990s.
Eastern Congo already hosts hundreds of Ugandan troops, deployed nearly a year ago under a separate bilateral arrangement to help hunt down the Islamic State-allied group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
Despite billions of dollars spent on one of the United Nations’ largest peacekeeping forces, more than 120 armed groups continue to operate across large swathes of eastern Congo, including M23 rebels, which Congo has repeatedly accused Rwanda of supporting. Kigali denies the accusations.
Speaking in Kinshasa after a meeting with President Felix Tshisekedi on Monday, Kenyan President William Ruto said Nairobi would honour a commitment to help stabilise eastern Congo. Kenya’s parliament has approved the deployment of 900 soldiers there.
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“A peaceful and secure and stable Democratic Republic of Congo is not only good for the people of Congo, it is good for the people of our region,” Ruto said, adding that the East African Community would do whatever it takes to bring stability.
The M23 has staged a major offensive this year, seizing territory, forcing thousands of people from their homes and sparking a diplomatic dispute between Congo and Rwanda.
On Friday, the EAC said former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and Rwandan President Paul Kagame agreed on the need for M23 rebels to cease fire and withdraw from captured territory.
Reporting by Elias Biryabarema in Kampala and Benoit Nyemba in Kinshasa Editing by Hereward Holland, Nick Macfie and Mark Heinrich