SA is willing to mediate an end to the latest outbreak of violence in the vast east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but will first meet regional partners and build consensus on the issue. Meanwhile, the European Union is considering the deployment of troops to this perennial hotspot.
Insurgents loyal to Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda earlier this week launched a new offensive against government forces and by Wednesday night had reached the outskirts of Goma, capital of North Kivu province and located next to a lake with the same name.
The offensive is the latest in a series since late August by Nkunda who he is fighting to protect Tutsis from armed Hutu groups who have been roaming the area since fleeing Rwanda after the 1994 genocide that saw an estimated 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus butchered in a few months.
The Congo has asked its neighbours for help and accuses Rwanda, located on the other side of Lake Kivu from Goma, of supporting Nkunda. Rwanda denies this, although it has previously fomented rebellion in the DRC.
SABC News reports SA President Kgalema Motlanthe will meet DRC President Joseph Kabila today. They are expected to discuss the crisis that has seen tens of thousands flee the rebels while government troops have turned to looting.
The Independent group`s newspapers say these include a “rapid reaction deployment battalion” trained by the SA National Defence Force as part of its Operation Teutonic I.
The public broadcaster adds that SA foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is already in Kinshasa but was cautioning against hasty action.
“It would be too early for SA to start jumping the gun because the SADC Organ (Southern African Development Community`s Organ for Politics, Defence and Security) has to discuss the matter and agree on a course of action and within that context SA will then see what to do.”
The SABC says Motlanthe has already spoken to Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Returning to the theme of mediation, Dlamini-Zuma then added: “If necessary, I`m sure South Africa will be willing to do that. We have done it in the past. We are willing to do it anytime it is deemed necessary, and I think the President already has been having some informal discussions with the President (in the DRC) and President in Rwanda.”
Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies analyst Bossie Boshoff says a battalion of SA troops – 121 SA Infantry Battalion – are currently at Sake near Goma. They are the MONUC Eastern Division`s quick reaction reserve. Boshoff says they are unlikely to be able to do anything about the situation there and should concentrate on force protection – ensuring that none among them are hurt.
Meanwhile the European Commission (EC) says it will give four million euros in emergency aid to the DRC. “We are facing a critical humanitarian situation,” spokesman John Clancy told journalists in Brussels.
He says 12 million euros out of the 514 million euros earmarked for the DRC under the EC’s 2008-2013 spending plan would specifically go towards helping the population of the war-torn east of the country.
The Associated Press reports
that the European Union’s security committee is scheduled to discuss a possible deployment to the DRC today. “A top EU military leader, Gen. Henri Bentegeat, has suggested a battle group of up to 1500 elite troops … be sent, provided the deployment won the approval of all 27 EU states,” the report says.
“The battle groups are designed for rapid deployment to trouble spots and are important in developing an expanded global military role for the European Union.” The AP adds France and Belgium, Congo’s former colonial master, have both said they favour intervention but Germany and Britain have expressed greater reluctance.
But France is already downplaying an aggressive role for the EU. “Whatever is decided, [French Foreign Minister Bernard] Kouchner played down the possibility that EU peacekeepers would engage in fighting, saying any mission would likely have a purely humanitarian role. For the moment, it would consist, as the UN has requested of us … in reinforcing the U.N. troops in their humanitarian and protection missions,” Kouchner said.
MONUC musters about 17 000 troops, including the South Africans.
The DRC has been wracked by violence for years. It is estimated that more than five million people died in the 1998-2003 “Second Congo War
“, most of them from hunger and disease. The war pitted Kabila, Angola, Chad, Namibia and Zimbabwe against Rwanda and followed on the “First Congo War
” that saw Kabila`s father oust dictator Mobuto Sese Seko.
The UN said about 250 000 civilians have fled the fighting since August, bringing the number of refugees in North Kivu to almost one million.