Regional force tackling east Congo violence extended to September

FILE PHOTO: Members of the Ugandan army, part of the troops to the EACRF, patrol a settlement ceded by M23 rebels fighters in Bunagana

(Reuters) - A regional force set up to tackle militia violence in east Democratic Republic of Congo has been extended to September, a minister and a spokesperson for the force said on Wednesday.

The seven countries of the East African Community (EAC) set up the EACRF military force in April last year to try to end bloodshed linked to decades of militant activity in Congo's east.

The force's future had been uncertain since its mandate expired in March, and EAC leaders had expressed differing views on how it should operate.

Doubts over its effectiveness grew in April after the force's head, Major General Jeff Nyagah, said he had resigned due to obstruction and threats to his safety.

An EAC spokesperson confirmed reports that the force's mandate had been extended to September during a summit in Burundi on Wednesday.

Congo's Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Bemba also confirmed the reports.

President Felix Tshisekedi has been openly critical of the EACRF. He accuses it of not being aggressive enough and failing to rein in the M23 rebel group, which launched an offensive in the east of the country last year.

Tshisekedi had initially agreed to extend the EACRF's mandate until June.

(Reporting by Sonia Rolley; Editing by Sofia Christensen and Daniel Wallis)