DR Congo tells Brussels Airlines to cut flights as tensions spiral
Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday told Brussels Airlines to reduce by nearly half the number of its weekly flights to Kinshasa, in a ramping up of tensions with its former colonial power Belgium.
The move comes after Belgian and EU officials condemned a violent DRC government crackdown on protests against President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled since 2001.
The number of Brussels Airlines flights to the capital will be “reduced from seven to four a week from Monday, February 5, 2018,” said Civil Aviation Director General Jean Tshiumba Mpunga, in a letter to the airline’s representative in Kinshasa.
Congolese aviation officials blamed a lack of “reciprocity” in flights between DRC and Belgium, the letter said.
A Brussels Airlines spokesperson responded: “We are going to find solutions for our passengers. We regret that our passengers are obviously victims.”
Belgian-Congolese relations had already deteriorated after the government in Brussels, on January 10, said it would carry out a “fundamental revision” of cooperation with the DRC until “credible elections” were held.
The European Union has likewise been a highly vocal critic of Kabila, whose regime has been widely criticised for corruption, repression and incompetence.
Kabila’s second and final term in office expired more than a year ago, but he has stayed in power.
Under a deal brokered by the Catholic Church, Kabila was meant to step down by the end of last year.
Instead, the election to replace him, originally scheduled for 2016, has now been delayed until December this year.
Tensions began to spiral two weeks ago when Congolese authorities told Belgium to end its consular arrangement in Kinshasa, named “Schengen house”.
Under it, Belgium handles visa requests for the EU’s border-free Schengen zone.
“Schengen house has had to suspend its activities,” the EU said on Friday, but indicated it was open to talks to resolve the situation.
The Congolese government has also asked for Belgium’s new development agency, Enabel, to be shut down.
The Belgium Embassy in Kinshasa said it had set up a telephone number for Congolese who want to request a three month short-stay visa, but a person answering the phone said they are “not taking any more files at the moment”.