Africa

DR Congo’s Tshisekedi calls for withdrawal of UN peacekeepers

DR Congo President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City on September 20, 2023. PHOTO/AFP

The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday called for a speedy withdrawal of a key UN peacekeeping mission that has been in the nation for nearly 25 years.

“It is time for our country to take full control of its destiny and become the main actor in its own stability,” Felix Tshisekedi told the United Nations General Assembly.

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The final departure of the MONUSCO mission has been at the heart of debates on the DRC’s future for years, and a source of tension and populist rhetoric in the central African nation.

Tshisekedi said that the mission of some 15,000 peacekeepers “has not succeeded in confronting the rebellions and armed conflicts… nor in protecting the civilian populations.”

In 2020, the Security Council approved a plan for a phased withdrawal in DR Congo, setting parameters for transferring the responsibilities of UN troops to Congolese forces.

While the plan under discussion was to begin withdrawal in December 2024, DR Congo in September asked the Security Council to start the process in December this year, when Tshisekedi is running for re-election.

Tshisekedi said at the UN it was “illusory and counterproductive to continue to cling to the maintenance of MONUSCO to restore peace.”

The United States warned at a Security Council meeting in June against a hasty withdrawal of the mission, assessing that the country was not ready to part with the Blue Helmets at the end of 2023.

The discussions come as the United Nations has faced a series of attacks and demonstrations against the mission in the country.

Nearly 50 people were killed in a crackdown on an anti-UN protest in eastern DR Congo in August.

“The acceleration of the withdrawal of MONUSCO becomes absolutely necessary to ease tensions,” said Tshisekedi.

The DRC’s east has been ravaged by militia violence for three decades, a legacy of regional wars that flared in the 1990s and 2000s.

The UN peacekeeping mission in the region, in place since 1999, is one of the largest and costliest in the world, with an annual budget of about $1 billion.

But the UN comes in for sharp criticism in the DRC where many people perceive the peacekeepers as failing to prevent conflict.

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