President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo said on Monday that the presence of Ugandan troops in DRC fighting the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group was for a limited period only.
Earlier this month Uganda and DRC launched a joint operation against the ISIL-allied ADF armed group 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 COVID-19 pandemic and the country’s economic affairs.
Uganda’s intervention has provoked unease because of its army’s conduct during DRC’s 1998-2003 civil war when Uganda was accused of occupying territory and plundering resources.
At least 1,700 Ugandan soldiers have crossed into eastern DRC, and Uganda’s defence ministry has said its troops will stay as long as needed to defeat the ADF.
The ADF was historically a Ugandan rebel coalition whose biggest group comprised people opposed to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
The group established itself in eastern DRC in 1995, later becoming the deadliest of dozens of outlawed forces in the troubled region.
DRC’s Catholic Church has said the ADF has killed approximately 6,000 civilians since 2013 while a respected monitor, the Kivu Security Tracker, blamed it for more than 1,200 deaths in the area alone since 2017.
In March, the United States placed the ADF on its list of “terrorist” organisations linked to ISIL.
On the economy, Tshisekedi said he had asked his government for additional reforms to boost revenue collection. Reforms have helped improve DRC’s economic outlook, with growth expected to reach 6.4 percent 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 jeers from opposition politicians.
Tshisekedi’s main rival, Martin Fayulu, had called for a sit-in at the electoral commission on Monday to demand the resignation of the organisation’s head, who is seen as close to the president.
Police, however, blocked roads leading to the commission’s headquarters.
Tshisekedi said preparations were underway to ensure timely, transparent elections in 2023 and he urged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
DRC has the world’s lowest coronavirus vaccination rate, with roughly 0.1 percent of its 90 million population inoculated.
“I have asked the government to accelerate the implementation of projects with rapid and visible impact,” Tshisekedi said.
The Ministry of Health on Monday announced the presence of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the country, as well as an exponential increase in cases of the disease, indicating the start of a fourth wave.