Defence Minister Moven Mahachi told the BBC the agreement was reached at a two-day meeting of defence ministers from the 14-member organisation called to examine a regional response to the two-week-old rebellion in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
"It was unanimously agreed that we must with urgency make sure that practical assistance, both material and manpower, is given to the DRC in order to restore peace and stability," Reuters reported him as saying. "We are convinced that the rebel force is supported from Uganda and Rwanda ... It became very clear that our sister country has been invaded."
"There is preparedness of us in this region to give the support in whatever manner is within our capabilities and this should be done soonest," Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said in a television broadcast last night.
The Harare meeting on Tuesday was attended by the defence ministers of Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Five other countries were represented at more junior level, including South Africa's acting high commissioner to Zimbabwe.
Media reports suggested there was not unanimous agreement on military intervention. Political sources in Pretoria said South Africa and Botswana had opposed the plan. There was also confusion over whether a SADC summit would be required to endorse the decision taken by the defence chiefs. Analysts point out the apparent green light for military action was given while a verification team of four SADC foreign ministers was still touring the region investigating Kabila's allegations of Rwandan and Ugandan support for the rebels.
South African President Nelson Mandela said today that he would not send troops to the DRC, the news agency SAPA reported. "Our attitude is clear. We would not worsen the position by sending in a military force. We are committed to peace."
A senior Zambian official, asked for a comment by IRIN on Lusaka's role in any envisaged military operation, said: "Ask Zimbabwe." Zambia's Defence Minister Chitalu Sampa had chaired the Tuesday meeting.
"My sense is that the statement from Mugabe goes way beyond what was agreed. He is trying to commit SADC before an agreement is reached," a political commentator in Harare told IRIN. "The purpose [of intervention] is to create a stalemate for negotiations. Zimbabwe is trying to prevent another military takeover in the region which would prove too destabilising."
Mugabe, as chairman of SADC's organ on defence and security, "is speaking on the principle that SADC countries have agreed to police their own security," the source added. "I don't think anyone in the region is satisfied with Kabila. The principle is that Congo joined SADC and we have to put our money where our mouth is."
However, Ugandan presidential spokeswoman Hope Kivangere told IRIN: "We want to push for a consensus on this as acting unilaterally will not help." She added that the Harare decision is "escalating the conflict which in our opinion is a purely internal matter."
Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni today met the South African Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo and Defence Minister Joe Modise in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu. Kivangere said the details of the talks were confidential. However, Nzo stressed yesterday that South Africa wanted a diplomatic solution to the DRC crisis and all-inclusive talks involving Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo rebels.
Political sources in Harare say meetings are continuing today over the modalities of an intervention in the DRC. One commentator said it was unlikely that Zimbabwe would go in alone, and at a minimum Angola, Namibia and Zambia would be involved. Tanzania, whose foreign minister is on the verification team, is also allegedly weighing its options.
"I don't know if it will be a token show or if Zimbabwe will go the whole hog. If it's the whole hog it needs to get its allies on board," Michael Quintan, editor of the Harare-based Africa Defence Journal said.
He added that Zimbabwe has the capacity to transport an expeditionary force of a few hundred Special Forces along with 10 helicopters and five strike aircraft to Kinshasa within 48 hours. Angola however has a far more significant airlift capability, if they decide to deploy fully in support of Kabila. Tanzania already has special forces on the ground, reportedly training Kabila's presidential guard.
A senior media source in Namibia confirmed reports that two cargo planes landed at Windhoek airport at the weekend and loaded 21 mt of military equipment destined for the DRC. He however added that a radio call-in programme on state-owned NBC this afternoon registered widespread public criticism of Namibia's perceived role in the crisis.
"People were taking the example of South Africa looking for a peaceful rather than a military solution," he told IRIN. "That's probably why there has been no official announcement [of the Harare decision]." Political sources in Harare say there is similar opposition in Zimbabwe among civil society groups who argue that the debt-ridden economy cannot afford a military commitment.
"There is a limit to how far we can crystal ball gaze," Quintan points out. "I think we have to sit back for a few days and see how things pan out."
[The material contained in this communication comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN IRIN-SA Tel: +27 83 737 7867 e-mail: email@example.com for more information or free subscriptions. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. IRIN reports are archived at: http://www.reliefweb.int/ or can be retrieved automatically by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Mailing list: irin-sa-service]