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DR Congo: UN mission still disinformation target, as withdrawal speculation grows

UN Photo/Michael Ali MONUSCO peacekeepers deployed in North Kivu province to protect civilians. (file)

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains mired in insecurity, characterized by volatility and tensions that show no signs of abating, the head of the UN’s peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO) there, said on Thursday.

Attacks on local populations, roadblocks and denial of humanitarian access, continue to fuel suffering in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, Special Representative Bintou Keita told the Security Council in New York.

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“As I speak today, over six million people remain displaced in [these places],” she stated, urging continued support for underfunded relief operations.

Eventual departure

Turning to the planned – but not finalized – departure of UN peacekeepers from the DRC, Ms. Keita called on the Council to express itself clearly on the recommendations set out in the August report of the Secretary-General on the future of the mission she leads, MONUSCO.

Later in the day, in response to a question at a press stakeout, Ms. Keita said detailed discussions will be held with authorities and an action plan with key benchmarks agreed with them in the spirit of partnership.

Last week, the President of the DRC at the General Assembly called on the UN mission to accelerate and bring forward its withdrawal deadline by one year: from December 2024 to December 2023.

Gender-based violence

Another deeply concerning aspect within the crisis is the prevalence of gender-based and sexual violence. Over 10,000 survivors sought assistance from the UN peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, in the three provinces in June and July, Ms. Keita said.

In response to the acute risk of sexual violence in displacement sites, the UN Mission has stepped up patrols, including with the Congolese armed forces.

Political solutions needed

Continued humanitarian and security measures are still essential she said. Ms. Keita also underscored the need for political and regional solutions to address the menace of armed groups operating in eastern DRC.

She expressed encouragement for the recent visit of peace process acilitator, former President Uhuru Kenyatta, to Goma, emphasizing the importance of implementing confidence-building measures.

The extension of the East African Community regional force mandate for three months and the commitment of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to deploy a peace mission in eastern DRC signal ongoing regional engagement, she noted.

Special Representative Keita stressed that such efforts can succeed only if essential reforms in the security sector are adopted, financed, and implemented.

Upcoming elections

The recruitment of 13,000 police officers ahead of the 2023 elections should help extend State authority and strengthen the rule of law, she said.

The looming general elections planned for December are a crucial milestone for the country, she added, commending national efforts to meet the deadline set out in the constitution.

“It is important for the Government to ensure that the democratic space is protected, that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are guaranteed and that human rights are respected,” she added.

Conducive environment for MONUSCO

In conclusion, Ms. Keita stressed the importance of a conducive environment which will allow MONUSCO to withdraw in line with its overarching mandate.

“Regrettably, the mission continues to be targeted by mis- and disinformation, as well as threats and attacks,” she said, condemning the killing of civilians by national security forces on 30 August in Goma.

“I am hopeful that the trials currently underway will provide justice to the bereaved families of the victims, including one police officer, and shed light on the circumstances surrounding this tragic event.”

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