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EU Foreign Ministers to Discuss Congo Political Crisis Amid Sanctions Push
Published on 6-10-2016 - at 02:58' by The Wall Street Journal

An EU statement criticizing the postponement of elections in the DRC was recently blocked

BRUSSELS—European foreign ministers will discuss the political crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo when they meet in Luxembourg later this month, diplomats said Wednesday, as some capitals push for the bloc to impose sanctions.

EU ambassadors agreed at a meeting Tuesday that foreign ministers will discuss the situation Oct. 17 after a request from a number of countries, one of the officials said. The bloc will issue a formal statement after the talks, which means they could agree action at the meeting.

Washington last week imposed fresh sanctions on two senior security officials for their role in suppressing political opposition in the DRC.

Last Thursday, the DRC’s electoral commission said general elections, originally scheduled for late November, won’t take place until at least early 2018, risking further violence that could upend the fragile stability of the resource-rich nation.

It is the first time the commission has provided a timeline for when the elections may take place, after saying previously that they won’t happen this year. Critics of President Joseph Kabila say the delay is an attempt to extend his time in power, since a constitutional two-term limit prevents him from running again.

Over the past two years, the United Nations and Western governments, including the U.S., have condemned the government crackdown on protesters and arbitrary arrests of political opponents and activists.

EU foreign ministers warned in May that it was critical for the DRC to stay on the democratic path and keep moving toward presidential elections. At the time, the EU warned it could impose sanctions for human-rights abuses, but Belgium, which has close ties to the country, said it was too early for such a step.

On Tuesday, French foreign ministry officials said the EU needed to discuss sanctions and other measures in a bid to stop the political situation deteriorating. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has also said sanctions should be considered.

The Belgian foreign ministry said Wednesday that it had halved the visa duration for Congolese officials holding diplomatic passports to six months because of the political situation in the DRC.

However, the bloc has struggled to reach a common position on developments in the DRC. Last Friday, an EU statement criticizing the postponement of elections was blocked because of disagreement over its wording. As a result, the EU still hasn’t responded as a bloc to the electoral delay.

In a statement last week, Human Rights Watch welcomed the U.S. imposition of sanctions on two senior security officials and called on Washington to broaden those measures against other senior government, security and intelligence officials.

“The European Union and the United Nations Security Council should urgently adopt similar sanctions as the U.S.,” said Ida Sawyer, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

”Taking strong action now could put further pressure on President Kabila to abide by the constitutional requirement to step down at the end of his term, and help prevent a broader crisis, with potentially volatile repercussions throughout the region.”

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Congolese opposition supporters destroy a billboard of President Joseph Kabila during a march to press the president to step down in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital Kinshasa, Sept. 19.



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