End Of The Road! UN Peacekeepers Begin Withdrawing From DR Congo Amidst Rising Tensions

End Of The Road! UN Peacekeepers Begin Withdrawing From DR Congo Amidst Rising Tensions

By Spy Uganda Correspondent

The United Nations on Wednesday started pulling peacekeepers out of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), ending a 25-year presence amid rising violence in the east of the long-troubled African nation.

The withdrawal of the UN forces comes as thousands of civilians have been displaced by heavy fighting between the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and the M23 rebel group in the country’s troubled North Kivu province in recent weeks. Dozens have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since January.

The DRC demanded the withdrawal of the remaining 13,500 troops and 2,000 police in regions bordering Rwanda and Burundi despite international concerns over violence by armed groups.

At an official ceremony at the Kamanyola base in South Kivu province, the first to be handed over, the flags of the United Nations and the Pakistan peacekeepers at the base, were replaced by those of the DRC.

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The UN stabilization mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), was set up in 1999 in a bid to halt the second DRC war which pitted local forces backed by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe against armed groups supported by Uganda and Rwanda.

At its peak, there were 20,000 UN troops in the country. More than 270 MONUSCO peacekeepers have been killed, according to UN figures.

Kinshasa has long accused the UN force of failing to protect civilians from the armed groups that have plagued the east of the country for 30 years.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths are blamed on the succession of conflicts since the 1990s.

Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula has said he wants the withdrawal completed by the end of this year, though the UN Security Council has not fixed a date.

The troops are based in Ituri, South Kivu and North Kivu provinces which have suffered most over the decades. About six million people have been killed and an equal number of people displaced since 1996.

The disengagement is to be carried out in three phases.

Phase one will see the departure of peacekeepers from 14 bases in South Kivu by the end of April. North Kivu and Ituri will follow.

Kinshasa, the United Nations and Western countries have accused Rwanda of supporting the M23, which has been advancing on Goma in recent weeks. Rwanda denies any role.

Local people have also criticized the UN troops for failing to protect civilians in the mineral-rich eastern region, but some have expressed concerns of a possible security vacuum.

The United Nations has insisted DRC security forces must be reinforced and take care of civilians at the same time as MONUSCO pulls out.

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