UN says ready to work with Congo to withdraw peacekeepers

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, which has been the target of deadly protests over the summer, said the U.N. is “ready and willing” to work closely with the government to accelerate the pace of the force’s withdrawal. of the UN which has over 14,000 soldiers and police.

Biddu Keita told the Security Council on Friday that after the resurgence of the M23 rebel group in recent months, the “crisis of confidence” that had already affected the UN mission and the people in eastern Congo had worsened. This provided “fertile ground” for stigmatizing the force and sowing misinformation about the mission, known as MONUSCO.

“This led to further violent protests and serious incidents that claimed the lives of dozens of protesters and four mission personnel,” he said.

Congo’s mineral-rich east is home to a myriad of rebel groups. Security has deteriorated there despite year-long emergency operations by the Congolese and Ugandan armies. Civilians in the east have faced violence from jihadist insurgents linked to the Islamic State group. Fighting has also escalated between Congolese troops and M23 rebels, forcing nearly 200,000 people to flee their homes.

MONUSCO’s mission is to protect civilians, deter armed groups and build the capacity of state institutions and services. But protesters said armed groups still roamed the east and the UN force was not protecting them. Peacekeepers have also been accused of retaliating against protesters, sometimes with violence.

Keita reiterated her “heartfelt condolences” to the families of the victims and her deep sorrow for the violence. The Congolese government said in early August that at least 36 people had been killed and more than 170 others were injured in the protests.

It condemned “in the strongest possible terms incitement to hatred, enmity and violence” and welcomed a statement by DRC president Félix Tshisekedi at last week’s annual gathering of world leaders at the General Assembly “Against racism and hate speech.” He also welcomed the efforts of the Congolese authorities, civil society and influential community figures “who have called for calm and restraint in an incredibly difficult security context”.

Keita, who is also a UN special envoy, said the UN supported government efforts to prevent “inter-communal tensions” in eastern Congo and encouraged the government to adopt a draft law in parliament against tribalism, racism and of xenophobia.

Following the anti-UN protests, Tshisekedi convened a meeting to reassess MONUSCO’s presence. Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula later cited 2024 as the target for the withdrawal of the force. It took over from a previous peacekeeping operation in 2010.

Noting the president’s directive to the government “to reassess the transition plan in order to accelerate the pace of Moscow’s withdrawal,” Keita said, “We are ready and willing to work closely with the government to that end.”

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