South Sudan has airlifted 300 soldiers from Juba International Airport to Goma in eastern DR Congo to join the East Africa regional force fighting the opposition group M23 in the area.
The soldiers are part of the 750-strong force that the new nation is contributing to the regional peacekeeping force there.
“Our bilateral relation as East Africa Community is deepened by this cooperation; and so, today, we want to inform the world that South Sudan very much concerns about the regional peace and stability and the objective of this force is to go and help our brothers in…DR Congo,” said Den Dau Deng, acting minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Gen Santino Deng Wol, chief of defense forces, urges the soldiers to protect and ensure citizens’ safety in the DR Congo and avoid abuses and harassment of women and citizens as they would have done in South Sudan.
“As you go, every old woman you see, see her like an old woman from South Sudan; every girl you see, see her like a South Sudanese girl; and every man you see, see him like a south Sudanese citizen. We don’t want anything [sexual abuse] to happen. You are going for the protection of civilians in Congo,” Deng stated.
The army chief also told the soldiers to cooperate with their colleagues of the East Africa Community in Goma and represent South Sudan in decent manner to portray the good image of the country.
“Your mission is to go and protect the citizens like in any other nations. Let’s work hand in hand, side by side, until African security is stable,” he added.
On Sunday, the first batch of South Sudan’s force, about 45 soldiers, arrived in Goma. The 45 men and women were joined this morning by 300 soldiers.
“I have no doubt at all that our men and women in uniform will perform well in their mission to DR Congo; I trust them. They are well trained and well oriented. They will carry out their mission to everybody’s satisfaction,” said Gen Chol Thon, defense minister.
The 300 soldiers were airlifted by the Kenya Airforce cargo plane. South Sudan is contributing more than 1,000 troops to the regional forces, according to the minister.
The M23, whose name stands for the March 23 Movement, is one of scores of armed groups that roam eastern DR Congo, many of them a legacy of two regional wars that flared at the end of the 20th century.
It was an offspring of the National Congress for the Defense of the People, better known by its French acronym CNDP, a rebel group which fought the DRC government between 2006 and 2009.
Both groups draw on a claim that the Congolese Tutsi and other ethnic communities in north and south Kivu are discriminated against, according to media reports.
In 2012, the Tutsi-led group briefly captured Goma before a joint Congolese-UN offensive drove it out.
In recent months, several ceasefires have been attempted, the latest of which was supposed to have taken effect on March 7, 2023.
But all have failed, and the M23 is continuing to advance.
Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, has been under threat since the M23 launched an offensive in 2022 after reviving from dormancy a year earlier.