Pullout of UN peacekeepers has started, DR Congo says
The withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo “has commenced”, the foreign minister announced on Saturday, with completion due by the end of the year.
The DRC called for the withdrawal despite United Nations concern about violence in the eastern part of the country.
The UN Security Council voted in December to accede to Kinshasa’s demand for a gradual pullout by the Monusco mission which had arrived in 1999.
Despite a volatile domestic situation, the government had for months been calling for an accelerated withdrawal of the peacekeepers.
Read:DRC, UN sign peacekeeper withdrawal plan
Kinshasa considers the UN force to be ineffective in protecting civilians from the armed groups and militias that have plagued the eastern DRC for three decades.
The accusation is similar to that made by other African countries, notably Mali, which also demanded the emergency departure of the UN mission there.
Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula and Monusco Chief Bintou Keita told a press conference in the capital they would work for an “exemplary” withdrawal.
The UN force today fields 13,500 soldiers and 2,000 police deployed across the three eastern provinces of Ituri and South and North Kivu.
The pullout is due to take place in three phases with completion depending on regular assessments.
Phase one is to see the departure of peacekeepers from South Kivu by the end of April.
Lutundula said the plan was not at the stage of “seeing soldiers board planes”.
Read:UN cautious over DRC peacekeeper pullout
But “the withdrawal has commenced in the sense that we are at work”, he said.
Keita said the first of 14 UN bases in South Kivu would close by February 15 at the latest and be handed over to Congolese security forces.
The first base to be handed over is at Kamanyola on the border with Burundi.
A final date for the full withdrawal has not been set by the United Nations.
“Normally on December 31 we will be at the end of the withdrawal process,” said Lutundula.
“We are fighting for everything to be done by the end of this year,” he added.
The departure did not mean “the end of the war”, the minister said referring to Kinshasa’s accusation that Rwanda gives military support to the M23 rebel group in North Kivu.
The Monuscochief recalled that DRC had “nearly seven million displaced people, including 5.5 million in the east,” and all in need of protection.
He said the numbers were “huge”, and called on all the armed groups to lay down their weapons to enable the displaced to return home.