Pressure on SSPDF to return home after DRC mission expires

Pressure on SSPDF to return home after DRC mission expires

South Sudan faces a race against time as the deadline for the withdrawal of the 750 South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is running out with no tangible plans for their airlifting.

The government in Kinshasa had announced December 8, 2023, as the deadline for all regional forces deployed in eastern D.R. Congo to leave the country.

Kenya’s government had already airlifted one hundred of its forces back home on Sunday.

This marked the start of the withdrawal of a regional force after Kinshasa did not renew its mandate to fight M23 rebels. The exodus of the peacekeepers implies that South Sudan must move with speed and airlift her battalion to avoid diplomatic fissures that may occur after the deadline.

 Spokesperson of the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces, Maj. Gen. Lul Ruai told The City Review that the SSPDF peace mission to the DR Congo would come back home soon. He was not certain about the date.

 “I can confirm to you, yes, that the East African regional forces have started to withdraw and Kenya is taking the lead, meaning that our forces will also withdraw from Congo and will also come back home, but I don’t know when they will arrive home,” Lul said.

He continued, “I am sure they will be airlifted together with the Kenyan troops because the other day, the Kenyan government airlifted our troops. I can confirm that the forces will come back from Congo.”

The 750 soldiers were airlifted from Juba International Airport in April to Goma, in eastern DR Congo, to join an East African force fighting rebel groups after the heads of state of the East African Community (EAC) resolved to send a joint force to deal with multiple armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The special battalion of 750 soldiers was a combination of various units of the SSPDF, including the military police, national security, and engineering corps, among others.

Last year, the cabinet approved $6.69 million, which would be paid immediately to the Ministry of Defence to facilitate the deployment of the forces.

Addressing the media after the cabinet meeting, government spokesperson Michael Makuei, said the cabinet approved $6.69 million and the minister of defense was directed to pay the money.

“The amount will cover this force so that they can perform their functions and duties along the borders accordingly. The money was approved, and the minister of finance was directed to pay this amount accordingly because this is urgent and it is important,” Makuei told journalists in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

Since March last year, M23 has been on the offensive in the DRC’s northeastern North Kivu province, with thousands of civilians displaced by ongoing fighting.

The President of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi had criticized the East African Community force since its deployment in November 2022 for failing to enforce the withdrawal of the M23.