February 6, 2018 / 2:12 PM / 3 months ago

Congo tells Belgium to close consulate, cut flights

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The Democratic Republic of Congo has ordered Belgium to close a consulate and cut flights by Brussels Airlines, Belgium’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday, in a further deterioration of relations between Belgium and its former colony.

Belgium closed its consulate in the southeastern city of Lubumbashi after being told to do so by Kinshasa, a Belgian foreign ministry spokesman said. Congo had also decided to close its consulate in the northern Belgian city of Antwerp.

Brussels Airlines, owned by Germany’s Lufthansa, has had its flight to and from Kinshasa cut to four per week from seven, the foreign ministry and the airline said.

The airline said it had been told by Congolese authorities the reduction was because of an absence of reciprocity in international air services between the two countries.

Congo’s foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment.

Relations have worsened since the start of the year, when Belgium decided to end cooperation on a number of projects with the Congolese government over concerns about the human rights and security situation there.

The 25 million euros allocated for such projects have been redirected to non-government organisations working on humanitarian aid in the country.

Congo’s president Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his mandate expired in December 2016, stoking violence and raising the spectre of the vast, mineral-rich nation tumbling back into the kind of wars that killed millions in the 1990s, mostly from hunger and disease.

Security forces killed at least seven people during protests on December 31 and at least six people while dispersing an anti-Kabila protest on Jan. 21.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Samantha Koester and Aaron Ross in Dakar; Editing by Catherine Evans

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