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Congo names its first female prime minister as violence rises in the east

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi named the country’s first female prime minister on Monday. In doing so, he fulfilled a campaign promise and took an important step towards forming a new government after being re-elected at the end of last year.

Former planning minister Judith Suminwa Tuluka will take on the role at a time of rising violence in the mineral-rich east of the country, which borders Rwanda. The long-running conflict has displaced more than 7 million people, according to the United Nations, making it one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

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Tuluka promised to work for peace and development in her first speech after her appointment on state television. Still, it could take months for a new government to be formed as the process requires intensive negotiations with the many political parties.

Congo election

Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi reviews a guard of honor during his swearing-in ceremony for a second term in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Saturday, January 20, 2024. Tshisekedi appointed the country’s first female prime minister on Monday, April 1, fulfilling a requirement election promises and takes an important step towards forming a new government after being re-elected late last year. (AP Photo/Guylain Kipoke)

“My thoughts go to the east and to all corners of the country where today there are conflicts with sometimes hidden enemies,” she said, referring to the conflict involving many armed groups, including some believed to be involved that they are supported by the Rwandan military. “I think of all these people and my condolences go out to them.”

Far from the country’s capital Kinshasa, eastern Congo has long been overrun by more than 120 armed groups that want to seize a share of the region’s gold and other resources through their mass murders.

Both regional and UN peacekeepers have been asked to leave Congo after the government accused them of failing to resolve the conflict. The violence has intensified further with the start of the withdrawal of personnel and the entry of the Congolese authorities into their positions.

Bintou Keita, the top U.N. envoy to Congo, told the U.N. Security Council last week that the prominent M23 rebel group had made significant territorial gains in the east, contributing to the rise in violence and rising numbers of displaced people.

Tshisekedi was re-elected to a second five-year term in December, accusing neighboring Rwanda of providing military support to the rebels. Rwanda denies the claim, but UN experts said there was substantial evidence of their troops in Congo.

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Last month, the United States called on Congo and Rwanda to step back from the brink of war.

The US State Department also called for Rwanda to withdraw its troops and surface-to-air missile systems from eastern Congo and criticized M23, describing it as a “Rwandan-backed” armed group.

Rwanda’s foreign ministry said last month that the country’s troops were defending Rwandan territory while Congo carried out a “dramatic military buildup” near the border.

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