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Southern African bloc renews commitment to fight armed groups in eastern Congo

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Southern African regional leaders on Saturday reiterated their commitment to their peacekeeping mission in restive eastern Congo and condemned a letter of protest by Rwanda written last month opposing United Nations support for the mission.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) deployed its Mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo (SAMIDRC) on Dec. 15 to assist the Congolese government in restoring peace and security in the east, where violent clashes have escalated.

Leaders meeting at a summit in Zambia's capital Lusaka on Saturday reiterated a commitment from SADC's mutual defence pact stating that "an armed attack against one shall be deemed a threat to regional peace and security," they said in a statement.

Congo is one of the bloc's 16 members.

SADC's members approved the mission in eastern Congo in May 2023 with a mandate to support the Congolese army in its fight against armed rebel groups.

The regional leaders said they disapproved of a letter Rwanda sent to the United Nations Security Council in February opposing its plan to support the Southern African mission.

Regional forces from East Africa, deployed in November 2022, began leaving Congo in December.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in eastern Congo has also begun withdrawing its troops.

(Reporting by Ange Adihe Kasongo; Writing by Portia Crowe; Editing by Daniel Wallis)