GOMA, Congo — Kenya’s president said on Wednesday his country was sending more than 900 troops to eastern Congo to join a new regional force tasked with trying to ease deadly tensions fueled by armed groups.
Kenyan President William Ruto called the mission “necessary and urgent” for regional security and said he and the Congolese president had agreed on how Kenyan forces would work with Congolese and other forces to disarm the rebels and keep the peace.
Kenyan forces will be based in Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo. The East African Community regional force, agreed by heads of state in June and led by a Kenyan commander, also has two battalions from Uganda, two from Burundi and one from South Sudan.
Late on Tuesday, angry mobs torched UN vehicles in Goma as frustration mounts over the advance of M23 rebels and the deteriorating security situation in the east of the country.
Violence by armed groups has sparked a diplomatic crisis between Congo and neighboring Rwanda. Congo has accused Rwanda of supporting the rebels, which Rwanda denies while accusing Congo of supporting another rebel group hostile to Rwanda.
UN vehicles were targeted in Goma amid false rumors that the UN had transported rebels, adding to the discontent of many in eastern Congo over the efforts of a peacekeeping mission known as MONUSCO.
“Because of these rebels, we fled our homes in Rugari, Kibumba,” said protester Kasereka Munyafura, standing next to the burning truck. “That’s why we are angry, and we just burned MONUSCO vehicles because it makes us suffer.
Earlier on Tuesday, the UN peacekeeping mission announced a “strategic and tactical withdrawal” from beleaguered Rumangabo. The M23 rebels tried to advance on the town, which hosts a military base.
The M23 rose to prominence more than a decade ago when its fighters took over Goma, which lies along the border with Rwanda. After a peace agreement, many M23 fighters were integrated into the national army.
The group resurfaced last November, claiming the government had failed to deliver on its ten-year promises. Over the weekend, the rebels doubled the territory they hold, taking control of two major towns.