DR Congo + 1 more

South Africa-DRC: IRIN Focus on peacekeeping debate


  • As African leaders gather at the United Nations in New York this week to try and find a solution to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the question of whether or not South Africa will send troops to the embattled central African nation has once again been raised.
    In a report to the Security Council last week, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended the initial deployment of over 5,000 troops to protect and facilitate the work of 500 unarmed UN military observers. Annan said that this proposal was based on the assumption that all the parties to the conflict would respect the Lusaka peace agreement and relevant Security Council resolutions.

He stressed the troops "would not serve as an interposition force" and additional peacekeeping tasks - including facilitating the eventual disarmament and demobilisation of armed groups and monitoring and verifying the withdrawal of foreign forces - "will require the approval of the Council for a larger operation".

What the officials say

In her statement to the Security Council on Monday, South African Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma, said the South African government believed the deployment of UN peacekeeping troops was critical to the successful implementation of the peace accord. "A delay by the Security Council in carrying out its fundamental duty may lead to the worsening of the situation in the DRC. South Africa finds the delay in the UN involvement in bringing about security, lasting peace and stability in the DRC unacceptable," she told a Security Council debate.

In specific reference to a South African role, Dlamini-Zuma said South Africa would offer "logistical" support to help the UN implement the first part of the Lusaka peace accord which calls for the disengagement of the official combatants, but added that "peace enforcement" was the responsibility of the United Nations.

A South African official told IRIN that "whatever South Africa's involvement, it will firstly be according to what the UN needs and wants and secondly what South Africa is able to send, but at this stage it is still too early to say what will eventually happen. We might not specifically send ground troops we might end up sending medical or communications personnel."

What the analyst say

Analysts told IRIN that just like the UN Security Council, the South African government is most likely waiting for some "concrete indication that the ceasefire will hold."

"After the Lesotho debacle a few years ago the South Africans are more cautious about sending troops to foreign soil. Of course, the situation was completely different, but the fears are still there," one military observer said, in reference to South Africa's botched intervention in Lesotho in 1998 to forestall what was described as an imminent coup.

Guy Lamb of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Capetown told IRIN that the government and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) faced a number of constraints, and "that it was unlikely that SANDF personnel will be deployed in a significant peacekeeping capacity to the DRC in the near future."

One of the most serious problems is that Kinshasa might not accept a South African contingent in a UN peacekeeping force. "According to the ceasefire agreement the composition of the UN peacekeeping force has to be acceptable to all the parties to the conflict. Given Kabila's recent anti-South African rhetoric it is unlikely that the DRC government will agree to South Africa's involvement in a UN force."

At a media conference in New York on Tuesday, DRC President Laurent-Desire Kabila accused South Africa of aiding the Rwandan and Ugandan backed rebels. "We are not happy with the South African attitude regarding the Congolese crisis," Kabila was quoted as saying. "From the beginning, I don't know who is responsible in the (South African) government. They continue to receive the so-called rebels, they are puppets of Rwanda and Uganda."

According to Lamb, another difficulty facing South African deployment is that only two army battalions have undergone peacekeeping training, "and these activities have largely been confined to the arid regions of southern Africa. SANDF soldiers have limited experience of the lush tropical condition of central Africa. In addition, members of the SANDF have had very little experience of UN-style peacekeeping operations."

Lamb added: "Generally speaking, the SANDF would encounter a myriad of challenges if they were ever to deploy troops in the DRC. These challenges include logistics, language, the disarming of rebels and armed civilians and the capture of genocidaires, to name but a few."

Analysts also told IRIN that the possible involvement of South African troops in a UN force could be affected by "internal dynamics" within the SANDF. "The SANDF's priority at the moment is rationalisation and downsizing of personnel. This understandably has affected morale. In addition the SANDF is struggling to deal with institutional racism," Lamb noted.

"Added to this, the South African defence budget has been drastically cut over the past five years and as a result the SANDF does not have the money to send a significant military force to the DRC. If necessary such funding would have to come from an outside source," Lamb said.

What the military says

Meanwhile, SANDF officials told IRIN late last year that President Thabo Mbeki's political commitment to a peacekeeping role in the DRC had been "over-optimistically" interpreted by some Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. "It is simply not going to happen," one military officer commented. "The DRC is vast, the infrastructure is poor or non-existent and South Africa just cannot pick up the pieces of a country from over a dozen competing or allied military groups," he said.

Another official capped any future deployment of South African troops at just one battalion of some 800 men.

"We are not thinking, 'what can we deploy'? We are thinking, 'what can we sustain for a long period of time'," he explained. "We could deploy a large force, but six months later, we would just not be able to support them in the DRC. There is no intention of South Africa holding any line for other SADC countries," he added.


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