By Spy Uganda Correspondent
The spokesman for UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been asked to leave the country, after more than a week of violent protests over the mission’s failure to bring peace to a war-torn region.
The government on Wednesday accused Mathias Gillmann of “indelicate and inappropriate remarks”. The escalation came amid rising tensions that may culminate in the UN’s ‘Blue Helmet’ peacekeeping mission, known as MONUSCO, leaving the country ahead of schedule.
On Monday, the government said it would hold talks with the UN to withdraw the 13,500 peacekeepers stationed in eastern DRC – the largest peacekeeping operation in the world. The UN on Tuesday confirmed it would work with the government to reassess a withdrawal plan that was originally slated for 2024.
The conversation follows widespread anti-MONUSCO protests, which have left 36 people dead – including four peacekeepers.
May Constitute ‘A War Crime’
Violent demonstrations erupted last week as hundreds of people stormed the UN’s peacekeeping base in the regional capital of Goma. The violence quickly spread to other towns in the North Kivu region, as demonstrators hurled petrol bombs and ransacked UN bases, holding signs saying ‘MONUSCO must leave now’.
UN secretary general, António Gutteres, said that attacks on UN peacekeepers may constitute “a war crime”, urging local authorities to investigate. The UN also came under fire after two people were shot dead by peacekeepers at a Ugandan border post on Sunday.
The protesters have accused the UN of failing to bring peace to the DRC’s lawless eastern provinces, despite having a military presence in the region since 1999. The vast area is overrun by a myriad of armed groups and jihadists, leading to fears that the UN’s withdrawal will create further chaos.
MONUSCO plays a key role in supporting the Congolese army, which already fails to keep militants at bay. Experts say that humanitarian agencies will also struggle to distribute aid to the 5.6 million people who have been internally displaced by violence across the massive country, the size of Western Europe.
“MONUSCO’S presence provides a modicum of stability and security in areas affected by armed group violence, which allows humanitarians to more easily provide assistance,” said Daniel Levine-Spound, a DRC-based peacekeeping researcher at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, an NGO. “The immediate withdrawal of MONUSCO could have a direct impact on humanitarian access.”