The head of the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Martin Kobler, told reporters Monday the mission - MONUSCO - must withdraw from the country. Kobler said the recent decision by Ethiopian Airlines to restart flights to Goma in eastern Congo is a welcome step toward MONUSCO’s withdrawal.
Kobler spoke at Goma airport after landing there aboard an Ethiopian Airlines jet.
Ethiopian is the only international carrier flying direct to Goma from outside the DRC. It started the flights last month, just six weeks after a night attack on the airport by gunmen who were repelled by security forces.
Kobler told reporters he felt very proud at this moment and wanted to thank the DRC government and its donors.
“It is very important to develop the economy here and this economic link with the outside world is what the people of eastern Congo need,” he said.
Goma and the surrounding province have come a long way in the past two years since Kobler took over as head of MONUSCO. In mid 2013, the M23 rebel group controlled the hills north of the city, and mortar rounds were falling in the streets.
Under Kobler’s leadership, MONUSCO played a key role in helping the Congolese army defeat M23 and improve security across the east of the country.
As other crises beckon, the U.N. Security Council is now anxious for MONUSCO to wind down.
“We’re now discussing MONUSCO’s withdrawal with the government and that also means reducing our fleet of planes. Why use MONUSCO flights if there’s an alternative? We must now withdraw from the country and having these direct flights here is a step towards that,” he said.
A spokesman for civil society groups in Goma, Djento Maundu, told VOA the Congolese army was lucky to have MONUSCO’s support. He said the groups were concerned that recently MONUSCO and the army have not been collaborating fully against all the armed groups, some of which are still resisting state authority.
"There’s a disagreement between MONUSCO and the army and we think that’s why Kobler, whom we respect very much, is talking of withdrawing his troops," said Maundu.
There has been tough fighting in the past few weeks between the army and several armed groups. Maundu said even the foreign armed groups like the FDLR and ADF-Nalu contain many Congolese fighters, and civil society could help persuade them to lay down their arms.
He said he favored dialogue because that way all sides could be heard, and their claims put on the table to see how peace can be restored to Congo.