UN initiates withdrawal of MONUSCO forces from DRC

The United Nations has commenced the phased withdrawal of MONUSCO peacekeeping forces from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), beginning with the handover of the first UN base to national police. This move follows the DRC’s demand for the withdrawal, citing dissatisfaction with the UN force’s efficacy in addressing armed groups and militias in the country’s troubled east.

Despite ongoing concerns about rampant violence in the eastern provinces of Ituri, South Kivu, and North Kivu, Kinshasa asserts that the UN force has failed to adequately protect civilians over the past three decades.

The UN Security Council, responding to Kinshasa’s request, voted in December to approve a gradual pullout of the MONUSCO mission, which has been present in the region since 1999. Currently comprising approximately 13,500 soldiers and 2,000 police, the UN force’s “disengagement plan” will unfold in three phases, contingent on regular assessments.

The initial base transition occurred at Kamanyola, situated on the border with Burundi. Phase one involves the departure of military peacekeepers from South Kivu by the end of April and civilian staff by June 30. Before May, all 14 UN bases in the province are expected to be handed over to DRC security forces.

Opinions in Kamanyola are divided as the pullout begins. While some, like Ombeni Ntaboba, head of a local youth council, express minimal concern, others, such as rights activist Mibonda Shingire, worry about the potential impact on the local economy due to the significant employment provided by MONUSCO.

Joe Wendo and others voice concerns about a “security vacuum” following the departure of troops from Kamanyola. The region faces challenges, including the resurgence of Tutsi-led M23 rebels in North Kivu, with recent intense fighting around the city of Goma.

Despite facing criticism, MONUSCO emphasizes its support for Congo’s armed forces and its role in defending positions and facilitating secure passage for civilians. However, some locals question the ability of Congolese forces to fill the void left by the departing UN troops.

DRC Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula aims for the withdrawal to be completed by the end of the year, although the UN Security Council has not set a fixed date. As the process unfolds, concerns linger over the security situation in a region already grappling with the impact of armed conflict, displacing around six million people.

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