Eyeing election, Congo president eases some terms of eastern military rule

By Ange Kasongo

KINSHASA (Reuters) – With little over two months until a general election, Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi on Thursday said some conditions of military rule in conflict-hit eastern provinces would be eased, partly to encourage participation in the vote.

He stopped short of cancelling the state of siege in North Kivu and Ituri provinces despite pressure to do so from civil society groups and the opposition who say it has done little to contain the many militias destabilising the east since it was imposed in April 2021.

In a late-evening televised speech to the nation, the president said a curfew would be lifted and peaceful demonstrations permitted under a gradual easing of certain rules in the affected provinces.

“This is all the more important as the various players involved in the electoral process are entitled to participate fully and without hindrance,” he said.

As he campaigns for a second term, his administration has had to deny allegations from rights groups and international allies of a crackdown on freedom of expression and political dissent.

Last year, U.N. experts and Amnesty International said security had deteriorated since the state of siege was imposed. Amnesty called on the government to end the policy, saying it had also led to the worsening of the human rights situation, including the harassment of journalists and the killing of activists.

Despite the presence of Congolese troops and U.N. peacekeepers, civilians regularly face attacks from the dozens of militias that have remained active in North Kivu and Ituri since the end of a major regional war in 2003.

The insecurity has caused the displacement of about 6 million people, the United Nations’ top representative in Congo said in September.

On Thursday, the U.S. embassy said it was concerned about an increase in violence in North Kivu. “The crisis in eastern DRC requires a political and not a military solution,” it said in a statement.

(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; editing by Grant McCool)