Congo asks UN mission spokesman to leave amid unrest

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — 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 U.N. peacekeepers.

Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula wrote to the U.N. mission, known as MONUSCO, saying he considers that the current tensions between the U.N. and the population are due to the indelicate and inopportune statements by U.N. 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 so 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.”

There was no immediate communication from the U.N. on the request.

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.

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 U.N. mission to discuss the possibilities for its withdrawal.

The U.N. force has already withdrawn from two provinces of Congo, Kasai and Tanganyika.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