Congo has stepped up security in the capital Kinshasa amid concerns about the safety of athletes taking part in the International Francophone Games starting this week, the government said on Tuesday.
Around 4,500 additional police backed by state security agents have been deployed ahead of the event, the game’s coordinator Isidor Kwanja said.
Athletes will be personally escorted by the police and their accommodation has been fitted with surveillance cameras.
The lack of security in the city is the latest setback for organisers of the 10-day Jeux de la Francophonie, which had already been pushed back two years from 2021 to bring infrastructure up to international standards.
Another conflict emerged on Tuesday when the International Organisation of the Francophonie, which hosts the games, announced that its secretary general, Louise Mushikiwabo, would not be attending.
Mushikiwabo formerly served as the minister of foreign affairs of Rwanda, Congo’s neighbour with which it has a strained relationship due to a rebel uprising. Congo accuses Rwanda of backing the M23 rebel group, which Rwanda denies.
A spokesperson for Mushikiwabo told Reuters that she had not been invited to the games. Congolese authorities did not respond to questions about the issue.
Authorities have scrambled to finish tracks, sports stadiums and accommodation in time for the July 28 start date. Some participants have also voiced concerns about safety in Kinshasa, where petty crime, muggings and kidnappings for ransom are relatively common.
The murder of an opposition spokesman this month exacerbated doubts over authorities’ ability to secure the games.
Both Canada’s Quebec and Belgium’s French-speaking Wallonia have cut back on athletes.
Around 3,000 athletes from more than 40 countries will take part in the games, which are held every four years with the aim of promoting the French language.
Sports include athletics, basketball, football, wrestling and cycling.