DR Congo wants UN mission to leave in 2020, foreign minister says

The UN continues to hold a strong presence in DR Congo. (AFP pic)

KINSHASA: The Democratic Republic of Congo wants the UN mission to leave the country in 2020, Foreign Minister Leonard She Okitundu said Tuesday, following a UN Security Council vote last week extending the peacekeepers’ mandate for another year.

“We have let the Security Council know that the current mandate is considered to be the penultimate one before the force leaves our county definitively after 20 years,” She Okitundu told a press conference in the capital Kinshasa.

The United Nations has warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis in DR Congo, with at least 13.1 million Congolese in need of aid, including 7.7 million who are severely food insecure.

The Security Council on Tuesday tasked its huge peacekeeping mission in DR Congo with helping to prepare elections meant to end President Joseph Kabila’s rule.

The council unanimously adopted a resolution presented by France that renews the mandate for MONUSCO until March 2019 emphasising the need to protect civilians as DR Congo heads toward the historic polls in December.

Russia warned then that the peacekeepers must not take sides in the elections while DR Congo’s ambassador said the mission’s focus should be on fighting rebel groups rather than supporting elections.

Western powers are turning up the pressure on Kabila to allow a peaceful transfer of power after the December 23 vote and rein in his security forces after dozens of protesters were killed.

She Okitundu, who is foreign minister and deputy prime minister, on Tuesday recalled that Kabila had told the United Nations last September that “the UN force cannot harbour the ambition to stay indefinitely”.

He confirmed that DR Congo will not attend a donors’ conference in Geneva on April 13 organised by the UN and the EU.

The Geneva conference was organised to raise US$1.7 billion (RM6.6 billion) to tackle a humanitarian crisis that Kinshasa says has been vastly exaggerated by aid workers.

Last month Prime Minister Jose Makila on Friday said the UN had overreacted and that aid bodies and NGOs in the country were propagating a “bad image of the Democratic Republic of Congo throughout the world”.

For several months, the UN and its agencies, as well as NGOs, have pointed to an alarming situation in DR Congo. They claim 4.5 million people have fled their homes in provinces across the country plagued with violence, from North Kivu, South Kivu, and Tanganyika in the east, to Kasaï in the central DR Congo, and most recently, in Ituri in the northeast.

MONUSCO is the UN’s biggest peacekeeping force, with 16,215 troops and nearly 1,450 police as well as many civilians.

Kinshasa authorities have set a date for the vote but Kabila, in power since 2001, has not clearly stated whether he will step aside, raising fears that the country will slide into all-out violence.