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DR Congo declares European commissioner persona non grata

Xinhua - January 9, 2010
Karel De Gucht

The foreign minister for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has stopped the granting of a Kinshasa visa to the European commissioner for development, the Belgian Karel De Gucht, in reaction to his recent comments considered by Kinshasa as malicious.

"Any demand for a visa for Gucht, the European Commissioner for Development, from DR Congo will be considered by the authorities of this country as an act of provocation," according to Thursday's issue of the La Libre Belgique newspaper.

The publication reaching Kinshasa reported the angry response to the European official was contained in a verbal note dated Jan.2, which was written by Congolese Foreign Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba and addressed to the European Commission.

The Belgian newspaper said the verbal note from Kinshasa termed as shameful the remarks made by Gucht on Dec. 16 during the debate on DR Congo in the European Parliament.

It quoted Gucht as telling the European lawmakers that the "Congolese leaders were inappropriate partners and the aid given by the international community to DR Congo is a total waste."

According to La Libre Belgique, the Congolese authorities have informed the Charge d'Affairs of the European Commission in Kinshasa that "in the current state of things, the coming of the commissioner (to Kinshasa) was not desirable" and that "any demand for a visa will be considered as provocation."

For the Congolese government, the source explained, the comments by the Belgian were considered as "an attack on the Congolese state, they were racist, showed lack of respect for the government and irresponsible."

And yet, the Belgian newspaper went on, Gucht, who was to relinquish the post of European commissioner for development at the end of January and take over that of European commissioner for commerce, was preparing to make a trip to Kinshasa in January.

The action by Kinshasa caught Brussels by surprise "which declared that it was amazed by the virulence of the Congolese government's spokesman a day after the European debate," the newspaper said.

The Congolese government "seems to want to extent the careless treatment to the European Commissioner for Development like it often treats the Belgian political appointees whose relation with them has always been chaotic even though they are their former colonizers," said the newspaper.

It asked a question: "How is the European institution going to react -- given the paternalism of Belgium vis-a-vis Kinshasa and yet her indulgence was required in this attack against the institution?"

An immediate effect is the refusal by Kinshasa to receive the European commissioner for development may slow down the implementation of 10 aid projects totalling 278.5 million euros (390 million U. S. dollars), which Gucht was supposed to sign in Kinshasa in January.

"This is regardless of whether the successor of Gucht, the Latvian Andris Pielbags, will also be interested," La Libre Belgique said, indicating the consequences.

Tensions between Gucht and the government of DR Congo are not new, according to the newspaper.

In April 2008, when Gucht headed a government delegation to Kinshasa in the capacity of the Belgian foreign minister, he also made remarks which did not go well with his Congolese hosts.

He spoke of lack of transparency in the exploitation of mineral resources in DR Congo, corruption and lack of leadership, urging Congolese officials to start working instead of talking too much.

These remarks made in Kinshasa before the Congolese government irritated President Joseph Kabila. In his reaction, the Congolese head of state sent a warning to the Belgian authorities: "There may be no consequences just because I wish there should be none. Next time, there will definitely some consequences."

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