July 22, 2024

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Congo’s president wants the world’s second largest United Nations peacekeeping force to move up its departure from the country, starting this December, saying it has failed to rein in conflicts in the country’s east.

President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi in an address to the annual United Nations gathering of world leaders on Wednesday accused the 17,000-strong peacekeeping mission of being unable to confront the conflicts in eastern Congo that are “tearing apart” the central African nation.

After a quarter-century of peacekeeping efforts, “it’s time for our country to take its destiny fully in hand” and become the leading security force in Congo, he said.

Moving up the start of the peacekeeping mission’s “accelerated retreat” by a year, from December 2024, will help ease deadly tensions in the region, said the president, who is seeking a second term at a general election in December.

Eastern Congo, far from the capital, has long been overrun by dozens of armed groups seeking a share of the region’s gold and other resources. Some have been quietly backed by Congo’s neighbors.

Earlier this month, a Congolese military crackdown on planned protests against the U.N. mission killed at least 43 people and severely injured more than 50 in the eastern city of Goma. Two high-ranking officers were arrested.

Such protests have been common as frustrated Congolese assert that no one is protecting them from rebel attacks. A separate East African regional force is also present in eastern Congo but has seen protests as well.

A visit by Pope Francis to eastern Congo planned for early this year was cancelled because of the worsening security situation there.

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