Congo protesters burn US and Belgian flags, target Western embassies

By Thomson Reuters Feb 12, 2024 | 8:58 AM

By Ange Kasongo

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Police in Democratic Republic of Congo fired tear gas on Monday to disperse protesters who burned tyres and U.S. and Belgian flags near Western embassies and U.N. offices in the capital Kinshasa, angry about insecurity in eastern Congo.

The protesters, seizing on a new tactic by targeting embassies, say the West supports neighbouring Rwanda, which is accused of backing the Tutsi-led M23 rebellion whose advance is threatening the strategic city of Goma in the east.

Rwanda has denied the accusations. Congo, Western governments including the United States and Belgium, and a United Nations expert group say the rebel group benefits from Rwandan support.

Despite security being stepped up after U.N. staff and vehicles were attacked on Saturday, groups of protesters gathered at the U.S. and French embassies and the offices of the United Nations mission in Congo known as MONUSCO.

Some threw stones, attempting to break the surveillance cameras at one of the United States embassy offices, while others chanted “Leave our country, we don’t want your hypocrisy”.

“The Westerners are behind the looting of our country, Rwanda doesn’t work alone, so they must leave our country,” said Pepin Mbindu, who joined the protest.

Onlookers cheered as one demonstrator removed the EU flag from the entrance of a large hotel in central Kinshasa, according to videos shared on X. Reuters has not authenticated the video.

“The international community remains silent while Congolese are being killed; they finance Rwanda,” said Fabrice Malumba, a motorcycle driver participating in the demonstration in front of the United States embassy.

Police fired tear gas and chased protesters.

Congo’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Christophe Lutundula met ambassadors and heads of diplomatic missions in Kinshasa on Sunday. He said security measures would be taken to protect their representations.

“As you can see, we are ensuring the security of the partner embassies of the Democratic Republic of Congo in accordance with the Vienna Convention,” General Blaise Mbula Kilimba Limba, Kinshasa police chief, told Reuters.

Decades of conflicts in eastern Congo between myriad rival armed groups over land and resources and brutal attacks on civilians have killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced more than 7 million.

Congo is the world’s top supplier of cobalt and Africa’s top copper producer.

(Reporting by Ange Kasongo, Benoit Nyemba and Justin Makangara; Writing by Bate Felix and Portia Crowe; Editing by Alison Williams)