SADC troops deployed to DRC

HARARE - SADC countries including Zimbabwe have reportedly deployed troops to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) amid reports of a spectre of a long multi-national campaign against the Rwandan-backed M23 rebels.

Zimbabwe is reported to have deployed a battalion of soldiers into the DRC as part of a broader multi-national peacekeeping force to repel the M23 rebels who have been fighting the DRC’s army since April last year accusing the Joseph Kabila administration of reneging on a 2009 peace deal.

However, Zimbabwe army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Alphios Makotore declined to comment yesterday, saying we “hereby advise you to go back to your sources for further details on the subject.”

 A column of a Sadc intervention force was expected to roll eastward towards rebel lines this week, the first major deployment of ground troops, in a bid to stop mass killings and rapes unleashed by the Tutsi-dominated M23 rebels.

Thousands of southern African soldiers, led by Tanzania, are due to take over the offensive.

Regional armies are scrambling to accelerate an operation which was initially not expected and has been brought forward by the scale of human suffering that has seen more than half a million people displaced by fighting between the M23 and the DRC army.

Sadc has said it plans to deploy 4 000 soldiers to bolster the DRC army as an intervention force provided by Southern African states.

 Heads of State of the Sadc organ on politics, defence and security met in Tanzania last week to approve plans for the swift deployment of 4 000 regional troops, foreseen in a Neutral International Force (Nif) plan.

The meeting, held last Friday, was attended by President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, Armando Emilio Guebuza of Mozambique and Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, the current chairperson of the troika organ.

 The heads of State expressed deep concern regarding the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in eastern DRC and strongly condemned the M23 and all its attacks on the civilian population, United Nations peacekeepers and humanitarian actors, as well as its abuses of human rights, including summary executions, sexual and gender-based violence.

“Sadc decided to deploy the Sadc Standby Force as a block in the eastern DRC under the auspices of the Nif and welcomed the decision of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) to mandate Tanzania to appoint a Force Commander for the Nif to be deployed in the eastern DRC,” reads the summit’s final communiqué.

 Sadc pledged to deploy soldiers within hours after talks held in Uganda’s capital, Kampala between the DRC and the rebels collapsed when the DRC government refused to sign a ceasefire agreement
DRC’s east, a vast and inhospitable area of rugged rainforests, was seized last year by the M23 group, which has unleashed unspeakable atrocities.

Sadc noted that any delay in launching a ground offensive could allow the insurgents to slip away into the forests, regroup and counter-attack.

The 4 000-strong Sadc-sanctioned force — to be backed by Sadc logistics, money and intelligence services — has seen full deployment with most southern African states offering troops.

President Robert Mugabe told reporters in Equatorial Guinea last month that the deployment will be done under the auspices of the Sadc Standby Brigade.

 “It is not Zimbabwe alone going to DRC . . . that is the Brigade which is there to take care of any nonsense by way of a coup or revolt,” Mugabe said.

“It is Tanzania which is the commander.”

But Tanzania, which is due to lead the mission, has already cautioned that the $10 million available is inadequate to adequately launch the operation expected to cost up to $100 million.

The DRC has pledged $10 million. - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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