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UN "Regrets" DRC Expulsion of MONUSCO Spokes

FILE: A military truck of the United Nations Organization and Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) patrols on the road linking Beni to Mangina on August 23, 2018 in Beni, in the North Kivu province

The UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday said it "regretted" a move by the government to expel its spokesman.

On Thursday, MONUSCO said in a statement that it had note of the request and that it "regrets the expulsion of its spokesman Mathias Gillmann by the Congolese government".

"The mission is committed to continuing to work by the side of the Congolese population and authorities to implement the mandate entrusted to it by the (UN) Security Council," it said.

According to an official letter seen by AFP on Wednesday, DR Congo asked the peacekeeping mission, known as MONUSCO, to withdraw spokesman Mathias Gillmann over "indelicate and inappropriate remarks" he made.

"The government would very much appreciate that action be taken for Mr. Mathias Gillmann to leave Congolese territory as soon as possible," it added, citing recent tensions between the peacekeeping mission and locals.

The government letter to MONUSCO, dated July 28, did not provide details about Gillmann's remarks.

But a senior government official who asked for anonymity said the spokesman had told French radio station RFI that UN peacekeepers did not have the military means to defeat a notorious armed group called the M23.

The militia had lain mostly dormant for years before resuming fighting last November.

It has since made significant gains, capturing the strategic town of Bunagana on the border with Uganda in June.

The group's resurgence has also damaged diplomatic relations between the DRC and its smaller neighbour Rwanda, which the Congolese government accuses of backing the M23.

The United Nations first deployed an observer mission to eastern Congo in 1999 and established MONUSCO in 2010 with a mandate to conduct offensive operations.

The peacekeeping operation is one of the largest and costliest in the world, with an annual budget of around $1 billion.