Uganda has finally deployed troops under the regional East African Community standby force .
The 1000 Ugandan troops were on Wednesday afternoon flagged off by the UPDF commander for Land Forces, Lt Gen Kayanja Muhanga at a function held in Bunagana, at the border with DRC.
Speaking during the flagging off ceremony, Lt Gen Muhanga described the occasion as another chapter in the peacekeeping operations that UPDF has got involved in.
“We were at one time in Liberia, we are in Somalia, we have been to South Sudan, Central African Republic and to DR many times.
This force has mission to witness the process of achieving peace in eastern DRC. We have not come to attack like the other side (under operation Shuja). Our work is not to start attacking belligerents there but witness and ensure implementation of the decisions taken by the heads of state. We are not going as enemies of anybody there.”
He emphasized that Ugandan troops will not attack anyone but rather to enforce the decisions of the East African heads of state.
The Ugandan contingent that will among others be charged with open blocked routes and protecting civilians against attacks by M23 rebels will be commanded by Col Mike Hairoba
Speaking during the flag off, Col Hairoba said the Ugandan troops in DRC will be ambassadors of peace.
“I want to assure that we have trained and ready for the task the region has assigned to us. With us as UPDF and now as part of EACRF, we have a strategic relationship with the civilians wherever we find them. The relationship is like fish and water that without the support of the locals we can’t operate effectively. I ask local population to support us to deliver to you the most required item of life- safety,” Col Hairoba said.
“We pray to everyone to give us full support to be able to deliver on this task.”
He warned the soldiers, that the issue of discipline will not be negotiable
“We have had the pre-mission training and the rules of engagement are very clear to us all. Let us adhere to them.”
The Ugandan troops will be in charge of sector three based North of Bunia in Ituri province
They join other troops from Burundi and Kenya that are deployed in sectors one in South Kivu and two which oversees North Kivu respectively.
The regional force deployed in DRC will try to calm the deadly tensions fueled by armed groups, especially the M23 rebels.
The rebel group currently occupies several areas of North Kivu.
Having risen to prominence a decade ago where it captured Goma City, M23, a Tutsi- led group went into a lull before reemerging last year.
The group claimed the DRC government had failed to honour a pledge of integrating its fighters into the army prompting the reemergence.
M23 has been blamed for several human rights abuses, including sexual violence.
For example, the rebels were accused of having masterminded the massacre of over 100 civilians at Kishishe, a village 70 kilometres (40 miles) north of Goma city.
During the incident, over 20 women and girls were raped in Rutshuru region.
The European Union has since sanctioned some of the rebel group commanders including the spokesperson, Maj Willy Ngoma.
Following the break out of fights between the M23 and Congolese government forces, the East African Community leaders agreed to deploy a joint regional force to quell the violence.