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UN says it is ready to work with Congo to withdraw peacekeepers

By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, which was the target of deadly protests over the summer, has said the UN is “ready and willing” to work closely with the government to speed up the pace of withdrawal. of the UN force that has more than 14,000 soldiers and police.

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

“This has led to new violent protests and serious incidents that have claimed the lives of a few dozen protesters and four mission staff,” he said.

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

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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 UN force was not protecting them. Peacekeepers were also accused of retaliating against protesters, sometimes with force.

Keita reiterated his “deepest condolences” to the families of the victims and his deep regret over the violence. The Congolese government said in early August that at least 36 people were killed and more than 170 injured in the protests.

He condemned “in the strongest terms incitement to hatred, hostility and violence” and welcomed a statement by the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Félix Tshisekedi, at the annual meeting of world leaders at the UN General Assembly. last week “against tribalism and hate speech.” He also appreciated the efforts of the Congolese authorities, civil society and influential figures in the community “who have called for calm and restraint in an incredibly difficult security context.”

Keita, who is also a UN special envoy, said the UN is supporting the government’s efforts to thwart “inter-communal tensions” in eastern Congo, and encouraged the government to adopt a bill in parliament against the tribalism, racism and xenophobia.

After the protests against the UN, Tshisekedi called a meeting to reassess MONUSCO’s presence. Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula later mentioned 2024 as the target for the force’s withdrawal. He took over a previous peacekeeping operation in 2010.

Noting the president’s instructions to the government to “reassess the transition plan, to speed up the pace of withdrawal from Moscow,” Keita said: “We are ready and willing to work closely with the government to this end.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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