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The King and Queen of Belgium, Philippe and Mathilde, visited the eastern city of Bukavu on Sunday as part of an official trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and met with gynecologist Denis Mukwege, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work helping victims of sexual violence in the east of the country.
The Belgian monarchs, accompanied by Mukwege, visited Panzi Hospital (on the outskirts of Bukavu) and met with some of the victims of sexual violence assisted at the health center.
Mukwege thanked King Philippe and Queen Mathilde for their visit, describing it as a gesture that demonstrates “humanity.”
At a press conference, the renowned Congolese gynecologist took the opportunity to draw the attention of the international community to the conflict situation in the DRC, and further warned of increased attacks by a rebel militia known as group March 23 Movement (M23) in the east of the country.
The DRC accuses neighboring Rwanda of supporting the M23. Mukwege compared the Congolese context to the war in Ukraine.
“Suffering must be treated in the same way and I don’t think the world will continue to remain silent,” the Nobel laureate was quoted by Congolese media outlet 7SUR7.CD.
“When I see the reaction of the world to the aggression of Ukraine, the sanctions that followed and the millions of dollars that have been mobilized, we cannot continue to close our eyes to the millions of deaths in Congo and believe that we live on the same planet. With the aggression against the DRC today, I do not see the difference with the aggression against Ukraine,” he added.
This is the first time the Belgian Royal Household has visited the DRC since King Albert II and Queen Paola traveled there in 2010 to mark the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence.
The visit, which ends Monday, comes after King Philip first acknowledged the “violence and cruelty” in Congo under his predecessor Leopold II (1865-1909) in a letter to Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi on June 30, 2020.
The letter, in which the king expresses his “deep regret” but does not apologize, is the first official acknowledgment by the Belgian monarchy of the atrocities committed during the reign of Leopold II.
At the Berlin Conference in 1885, Congo was declared a private property of Leopold II, who administered it as the Congo Free State until 1908, when it became a colony of Belgium until its independence in 1960.
Under this monarch, massive exploitation of the Congo’s natural resources took place, using the indigenous population as slaves.
The Belgian regime established a system of terror in which atrocious punishments, including mutilation, were common amid mass killings.
Although there is no exact figure, experts estimate that between five and ten million people have died.