Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo are set to gradually phase out the military administration and end a curfew in the eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri where the government has been battling armed groups, the president announced on Thursday.
In a televised address to the nation, President Felix Tshisekedi declared “a gradual and progressive easing” of the emergency measures in North Kivu and Ituri, including a transition back to civilian governance.
The “state of siege,” similar to a state of emergency, was imposed on the two provinces in May 2021, with the government citing the need to clamp down on violence and restore order.
Human rights groups have repeatedly questioned the legality of and need for the measures, which allowed mass pretrial detentions and restrictions on movement.
“I have opted for the implementation of a gradual transitional arrangement at the end of which this exceptional situation should come to an end,” Tshisekedi said in an address broadcast at 11:00 pm (2200 GMT) in Kinshasa.
The transitional arrangement “will consist of re-establishing civilian authority in the decentralised and deconcentrated territorial entities that are already secured under the control of the DRC Armed Forces.”
He added that he would be “lifting the constitutional restrictions” and once again allowing “the free movement of people and goods by putting an end to the curfew” and granting the right to peaceful demonstration and assembly.
Hundreds of armed groups have plagued the country’s mineral-rich east, many of them a legacy of regional wars that flared during the 1990s and 2000s.
M23 rebels, backed by Rwanda, captured swathes of North Kivu after launching an offensive in late 2021 — violence that has displaced more than a million people.
Tshisekedi insisted security has improved in the two provinces concerned.
The president’s announcement comes just ahead of a December 20 poll in which he is standing for re-election.
“Various players involved in the electoral process are entitled to participate fully without hindrance,” he noted in his address.
The DRC’s electoral commission is due to publish the list of provisional presidential candidates on October 25.