Congo appoints its first female prime minister as violence surges in the east

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi on Monday appointed the country's first female prime minister, fulfilling a campaign promise and taking an important step toward the formation of a new government after his reelection late last year.

Former planning minister Judith Suminwa Tuluka will step into the role at a time of worsening violence in the country's mineral-rich east, 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.

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

“My thoughts go out to the east and to all corners of the country, which today are facing conflicts with enemies who are sometimes hidden,” she said, referring to the conflict that involves many armed groups, including some believed to be backed by Rwanda's military. "I’m thinking of all these people, and my heart goes out to them.”

Far from the nation’s capital, Kinshasa, eastern Congo has long been overrun by more than 120 armed groups seeking a share of the region’s gold and other resources as they carry out mass killings.

Both regional and U.N. peacekeepers have been asked to leave Congo after the government accused them of failing to resolve the conflict. Violence has only continued to worsen as the withdrawal of personnel begins and Congolese authorities move into their positions.

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

Reelected to a second five-year term in December, Tshisekedi has blamed neighboring Rwanda for providing military support to the rebels. Rwanda denies the claim but U.N. experts have said there is substantial evidence of their forces in Congo.

The United States last month urged Congo and Rwanda to walk back from the brink of war.

The U.S. State Department also said Rwanda should withdraw troops and surface-to-air missile systems from eastern Congo and criticized M23, calling it a “Rwanda-backed” armed group.

The Rwandan Foreign Ministry said last month that the country’s troops are defending Rwandan territory as Congo carries out a “dramatic military build-up” near the border.


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