Congo asks UN mission spokesman to leave amid unrest

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KINSHASA, Congo — Congo’s government has requested that the spokesman for the United Nations mission in Congo leave the country, saying he has made inappropriate statements amid demonstrations against the presence of the UN peacekeepers.

Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula wrote to the UN mission, known as MONUSCO, saying he considers that the current tensions between the UN and the population are due to the indelicate and inopportune statements by UN Congo spokesman Mathias Gillman.

“The Congolese government considers that the presence of this official on the national territory is not likely to promote a climate of mutual trust and serenity as essential between the Congolese institutions and MONUSCO,” the statement said.

“The Congolese government would greatly appreciate if arrangements are made for Mr. Gillman to leave the territory as soon as possible.”

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric expressed regret at the government’s decision requesting Gillman to leave the country,

“In line with the status of the UN under the Charter of the organization, any concerns that the government may have regarding the actions of a member of MONUSCO should be raised directly with the mission leadership,” Dujarric said. “The mission and UN headquarters are accordingly engaging with the government to address this matter.”

The UN Security Council was briefed behind closed doors Thursday by UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre, who just returned from Congo, on the latest developments there.

The government did not point to specific statements made by Gillman, but in July during a press conference, he mentioned that MONUSCO and the Congolese army have limited means to deal with several fronts of attacks, in particular those by the M23 rebel group which has gained more weapons and is staging heavy attacks on civilians.

Dujarric said Gillman is currently not in Congo.

Congo’s government held a crisis meeting earlier this week to reassess the presence of United Nations peacekeepers after protests against the force in the country’s east killed at least 36 people and injured more than 170 others.

The government will also meet with the UN mission to discuss the possibilities for its withdrawal.

The UN force has already withdrawn from two provinces of Congo, Kasai and Tanganyika.

The statement from the foreign minister mentioned 2024 as the goal, saying that they wanted the spokesman removed to help “complete the transition plan for the end of its final withdrawal from Congo, by the horizon 2024, as agreed.”

The UN force in Congo, known as MONUSCO, has about 16,000 uniformed personnel but has not succeeded in stabilizing the country’s volatile east.

Congo’s mineral-rich east is home to myriad rebel groups. Security has worsened there despite a year of emergency operations by the armies of Congo and Uganda. Civilians in the east have also faced violence from jihadi rebels linked to the Islamic State group. Fighting has also escalated between Congolese troops and the M23 rebels, forcing nearly 200,000 people to flee their homes.

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