By RODNEY MUHUMUZA
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — East African leaders said they are proceeding with an urgent plan to deploy a regional force in Congo, where some areas in the country’s east have long been disturbed by sporadic violence.
Kenyan authorities announced the decision in a statement following a meeting Thursday of regional leaders in the East African Community bloc.
That meeting in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, resolved to “accelerate the establishment of a regional force to help contain and, where necessary, fight the negative forces” in Congo, said the statement. “Towards this end, the meeting directed that planning for such a force commence with immediate effect and with the full consultation of relevant authorities in the region.”
It remains unclear how such a force would be staffed, and there were no details on when it would be ready to deploy.
The central African nation of Congo joined the East African Community last month, becoming the trade bloc’s seventh member. The other members are Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.
With Congo’s admission, the bloc now commands a market of about 300 million people. Its overall goal is to create a political federation.
The bloc already has a common market to allow free movement of people, goods and capital within the region, although occasional trade disputes among members have hampered that and raised questions about protectionism among local authorities.
Despite its vast size and wealth of natural resources, Congo remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
Eastern Congo is particularly plagued by rebel violence as several armed groups vie for control of its mineral-rich lands.
One armed group, the M23, launched attacks against government troops near the Uganda border recently, forcing thousands of civilians to seek temporary shelter in Uganda.
In another part of eastern Congo, Ugandan troops are helping Congolese forces to hunt down rebels linked to an Islamic extremist group.