The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has officially announced the commencement of the withdrawal of United Nations (UN) peacekeepers from its territory. The decision, revealed by the country’s foreign minister, aims to complete the pullout by the end of the year, despite expressed concerns from the United Nations about escalating violence in the eastern part of the nation.
The UN Security Council had previously granted approval in December to Kinshasa’s request for a gradual withdrawal of the MONUSCO mission, which has been present in the DRC since 1999. Notably, the mission was initiated to address the complex security situation in the eastern regions of the country.
The government’s call for an accelerated withdrawal has persisted for months, underscoring Kinshasa’s belief in the inefficacy of the UN force in protecting civilians from the persistent threat of armed groups and militias in the eastern DRC. This sentiment echoes similar criticisms from other African nations, with Mali also demanding the immediate departure of the UN mission within its borders.
Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula, alongside MONUSCO chief Bintou Keita, emphasized their commitment to ensuring an “exemplary” withdrawal process during a joint press conference in the capital. Despite the volatile domestic situation, both officials conveyed their determination to navigate the withdrawal meticulously.
The MONUSCO force, comprising 13,500 soldiers and 2,000 police, is distributed across the eastern provinces of Ituri, South Kivu, and North Kivu. The withdrawal is slated to occur in three phases, with the first phase involving the departure of peacekeepers from South Kivu by the end of April.
Minister Lutundula clarified that the withdrawal process had begun, though soldiers had not yet boarded planes. He emphasized that work was underway, and phase one would involve the closure of the first of 14 UN bases in South Kivu by February 15, with the base being handed over to Congolese security forces.
While the UN has not set a final date for the complete withdrawal, Lutundula expressed the DRC’s commitment to concluding the process by December 31 of the current year. However, he cautioned that the withdrawal should not be perceived as an end to the ongoing conflict, citing Kinshasa’s concerns about alleged military support from Rwanda to the M23 rebel group in North Kivu.
MONUSCO Chief Bintou Keita highlighted the staggering humanitarian challenges faced by the DRC, including nearly seven million displaced people, with 5.5 million in the east alone. Keita urged armed groups to disarm, enabling the displaced population to return home.