UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, which was the target of deadly protests during the summer, said the United Nations is “ready and willing” to work closely with the government to step up the pace of withdrawal of the U.N. force that has over 14,000 troops and police.
Bintou Keita told the Security Council on Friday that in the wake of the resurgence of the M23 rebel group in recent months, the “crisis of confidence” that had already affected the U.N. mission and the people in eastern Congo had worsened. This provided “fertile ground” for stigmatization of the force and the sowing of disinformation about the mission, known as MONUSCO.
“That has led to new violent protests and serious incidents claiming the lives of some dozens of protesters and of four mission personnel,” she said.
Congo’s mineral-rich east is home to myriad rebel groups. Security has worsened there despite a year of emergency operations by the armies of Congo and Uganda. Civilians in the east have faced violence from jihadi rebels linked to the Islamic State group. Fighting has also escalated between Congolese troops and the 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 were still roaming the east and the U.N. force wasn’t protecting them. The peacekeepers were also accused of retaliating against the protesters, sometimes with force.
Keita reiterated her “deepest condolences” to families of the victims and deep regret at the violence. Congo’s government said in early August that at least 36 people were killed and more than 170 others injured in the protests.
She condemned “in the strongest terms incitement to hatred, hostility and violence” and welcomed a statement by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Félix Tshisekedi at last week’s annual gathering of world leaders at the General Assembly “against tribalism and hate speech.” She also welcomed efforts by Congolese authorities, civil society, and influential community figures “that have called for calm and restraint in an incredibly difficult security context.”
Keita, who is also the U.N. special envoy, said the United Nations is supporting government efforts to thwart “inter-communal tensions” in eastern Congo, and she encouraged the government to adopt a draft law in parliament against tribalism, racism and xenophobia.
After the anti-U.N. protests, Tshisekedi called a meeting to reassess MONUSCO’s presence. Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula later mentioned 2024 as the goal for withdrawal of the force. It took over from an earlier peacekeeping operation in 2010.
Noting the president’s instruction to the government “to reevaluate the transition plan, in order to step up the pace of Moscow’s withdrawal,” Keita said, “We are ready and willing to work closely with the government to this end.”