DR Congo suspends military cooperation with Belgium

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders criticised DR Congo President Joseph Kabila's appointment of Bruno Tshibala as premier as against "the letter and the spirit" of a power-sharing deal brokered by the Catholic Church

The Democratic Republic of Congo has suspended military cooperation with former colonial power Belgium after Brussels criticised President Joseph Kabila's choice of prime minister, sources said Friday.

"The decision to suspend military cooperation with Belgium has taken effect. This measure was pending since (Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders) came out and attacked the Congolese authorities," a government official said on condition of anonymity.

Reynders had criticised last week's appointment of Bruno Tshibala as premier as against "the letter and the spirit" of a power-sharing deal brokered to avert a political crisis after Kabila refused to step down after his mandate ran out in December.

The deal, brokered by the influential Catholic Church, called for an opposition leader to be named prime minister -- but Tshibala had been excluded from the main "Rassemblement" (Unity) opposition coalition.

Belgium's military attache in Kinshasa was notified of the decision to suspend military cooperation "at the beginning of the week", a Belgian defence ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

She added that the practical implications of the move "are being analysed", without providing further comment.

Military cooperation between DR Congo and its former colonial master had a bloody start days after the vast central African country's independence in 1960, with a mutiny by Congolese soldiers calling themselves the Public Force against their white officers.

The collaboration came to a halt at the beginning of the 1990s as Western nations cut their ties with dictator Mobutu Sese Seko after accusing the regime of massacring students.

The two countries' militaries began working together again when Kabila came to power in 2001 following the assassination of his father Laurent Kabila.

The elder Kabila, who had chased Mobutu from power in 1997, had prioritised military cooperation with China and North Korea.

Some 30 Belgian troops had been in Congo under the most recent cooperation arrangement, largely training Congolese soldiers. Belgian paratroopers had also been coming to train in joint manoeuvres with the Congolese army.

South Africa, China, the US and France also provide training to Congolese troops.