Belgium and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have signed an agreement governing the status of Belgian military personnel deployed in the DRC, mainly for training purposes.
The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was announced on Friday evening by the Belgian Defence Ministry, confirming information released in Kinshasa by its Congolese counterpart.
It was signed on Monday in Brussels by Belgian Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder and visiting Congolese Deputy Defence Minister Samy Adubango Awotho.
The signing was initially announced by the Ministry of National Defence and Veterans in Kinshasa, in a statement quoted by the official Congolese news agency, ACP. It was then confirmed by Dedonder’s office, which said the signing had been expected for years.
It testifies to the “good military cooperation” that has been established between the two countries and paves the way for the continuation and development of military collaboration and ensures better security for our military, a spokesman for the minister said.
A small group of about 10 Belgian military personnel is currently deployed in Kindu, eastern DRC, on a training-of-trainers programme for the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC). The Belgian trainers have been refreshing the skills of Congolese instructors from the 31st Brigade of the Rapid Reaction Units (URR), an elite force trained by Belgium between 2008 and 2017.
This mission, which began in April 2022, is expected to be completed by the end of the year. It was recently taken over by the 3rd Parachute Battalion from Tielen (Antwerp province), which relieved the 2nd Commando Battalion from Flawinne (Namur), according to the army.
Its deployment comes under an agreement called the Belgian-Congolese Military Partnership Programme (MPP) dating back to the 2000s, but denounced by former president Joseph Kabila during a serious diplomatic crisis between Brussels and Kinshasa caused by the postponement of elections in the DRC.
Initially scheduled for 2016, the elections were eventually held two years later.
Belgium and the DRC agreed to renew military cooperation after President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi came to power in January 2019.
According to the ACP, Adubango and his delegation also visited the Royal Military School (ERM) in Brussels on Monday, where they met Congolese cadets in training.
The Congolese delegation also visited Belgian military industries, “with a view to providing the FARDC with new equipment,” the statement quoted by the ACP said.