In an interview with IRIN, presidential spokesman George Charamba, said the regional power, South Africa, which had expressed reserve on the intervention by SADC neighbours Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola, had been more supportive since Thabo Mbeki succeeded Nelson Mandela as president earlier this year. "Contrary to what you may read in the press, there is now a better understanding between our two countries," he said.
His remarks constituted one of the first detailed explanations for what he acknowledged was an unpopular move and home and abroad. The intervention, which drew strong criticism from rights groups and the media in Zimbabwe and major Western donors and lending institutions, he said was "a matter of principle which dates back to the days of the liberation war here".
What was at stake, he said, was the sovereignty of DRC. Mugabe did not know DRC President Laurent-Desire Kabila, until they were introduced by the presidents of Uganda and Rwanda.
"Then, they (Rwanda and Uganda)turned around to use a Tutsi ethnic identity to launch an operation in DRC. They regularly libelled Kabila because of his democratic temperament," Charamba said. "What right does a neighbour have to depose leader on behalf of his people? This sets a very dangerous precedent."
Earlier, a senior Zimbabwe government official told IRIN that Harare currently deployed an estimated 10,000 troops in DRC at a cost of about US $3 million a month. Zimbabwe had lost 39 men, and 36 were held as POWs in Rwanda. He said Zimbabwean forces held an estimated 300 POWs at its DRC bases and a further 49 in Zimbabwe itself.
"At the next level, where you face an insurgency which ignites a neighbour whose jurisdictional powers are limited, is the right course of reversal eroding that neighbour?" Charamba asked. "Do you redress a genocide like this?" Nothing, he said, could sustain the agreed ceasefire in DRC except goodwill on all sides. "Remember that Zimbabwe spent its precious dollars helping restore the peace in Mozambique. Remember, we used to have more troops in Mozambique, and now we have peace there.
There is no question, that we, and the SADC at large, regard DRC as an economic trading partner like Mozambique, not as a playing field." An editorial in 'The Financial Gazette' this week, illustrated the level of hostility and frustration in Zimbabwe at the intervention.
Citing a nation wary of 20 years of "naked misrule" by Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, the weekly newspaper said: "If the government has money to deploy troops, tanks and jets in faraway Congo for 14 months - the cost of the expedition is US $42 million using the government's own figures - why can't it find the money to pay long suffering doctors, whose plight has forced them on the streets for the fourth time in 10 years?"
In response, Charamba acknowledged the "polarisation" in the government's relationship with the press. Perhaps because the psychology of the Zimbabwean leadership is the psychology of the liberation struggle, "we are perhaps too defensive and we need to adjust".
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