DR Congo new FM promises “more diplomacy for more peace”

KINSHASA, July 9 (Xinhua/GNA) — A proactive diplomacy will be employed to bring back peace to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), said Therese Kayikwamba Wagner, the new state minister for foreign affairs, while unveiling her plan late Monday.

The foreign ministry’s task is “to use diplomacy for more peace in the DRC, but also more diplomacy in general,” the top diplomat told her first press briefing, since taking office in June.

In the DRC, a country “with much to offer” and abundant opportunities in various fields, notably energy and sustainable development, her ministry will strive to address not only peace issues, especially in the eastern part of the country, but also growth, cooperation, and partnerships, Wagner said.

Diplomatic efforts take a bit longer and are more subtle than frontline battles, she said, promising to achieve outcomes so that the voice of the DRC could be heard on the international stage.

Wagner, who had worked in the eastern North Kivu province, the epicenter of violence, as a humanitarian worker for over two years before joining the United Nations system, said she would try to modernize the ministry, making it more “robust, connected, and digitized” to enhance the impact of diplomatic efforts.

The DRC could draw from the diplomatic arsenal of tools, including good offices, which could lead to a conducive environment for a sustainable resolution of the conflict, she said. “Regarding diplomacy, my keyword is ‘more.’ More diplomacy for more peace.”

The press conference came after an agreement between the government and March 23 Movement (M23) rebels, which have taken big chunks of land in eastern DRC, to silence their weapons as part of a two-week humanitarian truce.

Wagner said the government is committed to continuing diplomatic efforts during and after the truce with the M23, which resurged in late 2021 after its defeat in 2013.

The July 5-19 truce represents “a path toward peace” in the eastern part of the country, plagued by violence for decades, she said, stressing that protecting the country’s population remains “the first priority” of her mandate.

“A truce does not mean that we are not vigilant,” Wagner said, stressing that diplomatic efforts aim to find a “lasting solution.”

“We remain firm in our position that any discussions will take place within the framework of the Luanda peace process,” she said, referring to efforts initiated by Angolan President Joao Lourenco, in response to a question regarding dialogue between the DRC and neighboring Rwanda.

Kinshasa accuses Kigali of supporting M23 rebels, an accusation rejected by Rwanda.

“We want a political and sustainable solution,” Wagner said. “We want honest and sincere discussions.”

In the first four months of this year, more than 900,000 people fled their homes, bringing the total number of the displaced to about 7.3 million in the DRC, including more than 5.6 million in the three eastern provinces, namely North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In New York, Bintou Keita, the representative of the UN Secretary-General in the DRC, told the UN Security Council Monday that the DRC is experiencing “one of the most serious, most complex and most neglected humanitarian crises of this era.”

The new foreign minister called for a “responsible, sustainable, and orderly withdrawal” of UN peacekeepers from the DRC after 25 years of presence.

The pullout should not be seen as a void in the eastern part of the country, Wagner said.

At the end of June, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) closed its central office in South Kivu, marking the end of the first phase of its disengagement process from the country.

According to the timetable established by the DRC and the UN, MONUSCO’s disengagement unfolds in three phases, starting with a complete withdrawal of military and police components from the mission in South Kivu by April 30 and civilian components by June 30.

The second and third phases involve a withdrawal from North Kivu and Ituri provinces so that MONUSCO will “definitively leave the DRC no later than the end of 2024,” according to a statement jointly issued by the Congolese government and MONUSCO last January.

“The departure of MONUSCO cannot be seen as a source of concern,” Wagner explained, referring to the recent completion of the withdrawal process in South Kivu.

“It’s a process that was rich in experience and learning,” she said. “What is very important is that we do not want to hasten a situation where the vulnerability and volatility of the security context could be further exploited.”

Wagner denied rumors circulating on social media that Chad will dispatch troops to the DRC.

“Since Chad is not a member of SADC (Southern African Development Community), a military deployment in the context of SADC’s SAMIDRC is not an option,” she said.

SAMIDRC stands for the Southern African Development Community Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Composed of military elements from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi, and with support from Burundi and the African Union, SAMIDRC has an offensive mandate to halt the advance of M23 rebels.