Congo president asks UN peacekeepers to start packing up this year

By Ange Kasongo

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi has asked his government to fast track the withdrawal of a United Nations peacekeeping mission to ensure it begins at the end of the year, he said at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.

The mission, called MONUSCO, took over from an earlier U.N. operation in 2010 to help quell insecurity in the eastern part of the Central African country, where armed groups fight over territory and resources.

But its presence has become increasingly unpopular in recent years for what critics say is a failure to protect civilians against militia groups, sparking deadly protests.

“It is to be deplored that peacekeeping missions deployed for 25 years… have failed to cope with the rebellions and armed conflicts,” Tshisekedi told the assembly in a speech.

“This is why… I instructed the Government of the Republic to begin discussions with the U.N. authorities for an accelerated withdrawal of MONUSCO… by bringing forward the start of this progressive withdrawal from December 2024 to December 2023,” he said.

More than 40 people were killed and dozens wounded in an army crackdown on violent anti-U.N. demonstrations in the eastern city of Goma last month. Another protest in July 2022 resulted in more than 15 deaths, including three peacekeepers in Goma and the city of Butembo.

(Reporting by Ange Kasongo; Writing by Edward McAllister. Editing by Gerry Doyle)