Congo president says Ugandan troops' presence will be temporary

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Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Felix Tshisekedi. (Photo by Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Felix Tshisekedi. (Photo by Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)

Democratic Republic of Congo's president Felix Tshisekedi said on Monday he will ensure that Ugandan troops' presence in Congo, where they are fighting an Islamist militant group alongside Congolese forces, is for a strictly limited period.

Uganda and Congo launched a joint operation this month against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group allied with Islamic State, but have given few details about its scope or expected duration.

"I will ensure that the presence of Ugandan troops on our soil is limited to the time strictly necessary for this operation," Tshisekedi said in a state of the union speech that also covered the economy and Covid-19.

Uganda's intervention has provoked unease because of its army's conduct during Congo's 1998-2003 civil war, when Uganda was accused of occupying territory and plundering resources.

At least 1 700 Ugandan soldiers have so far crossed into eastern Congo, and Uganda's defence ministry has said its troops will stay as long as needed to defeat the ADF.

On the economy, Tshisekedi said he had asked his government for additional reforms to boost revenue collection. Reforms have already helped improve Congo's economic outlook, with growth expected to reach 6.4% in 2022, the IMF said last week.

"Despite this progress, too many in Congo are still struggling to make ends meet," Tshisekedi told parliament, listing shortcomings in infrastructure and basic services, to the jeers of several opposition MPs.

Tshisekedi's main rival, Martin Fayulu, had called for a sit-in at the electoral commission Monday to demand the resignation of the organisation's head, who is seen as close to the president.

But dozens of police blocked roads leading to the commission's headquarters through the morning, preventing protesters from approaching.

Tshisekedi said preparations were already underway to ensure timely, transparent elections in 2023.

He also urged people to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Congo has the lowest coronavirus vaccination rate in the world, with roughly 0.1% of its 90-million-strong population inoculated.

"The situation of our compatriots is not glowing. I have asked the government to accelerate the implementation of projects with rapid and visible impact," Tshisekedi said. (Additional reporting Nellie Peyton and Bate Felix Writing by Nellie Peyton Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Giles Elgood and Andrew Heavens)

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