South Africa as a troop contributing country to MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the DRC has re-affirmed its commitment to neutralising “negative forces” in particularly the eastern part of the country.
This assurance comes from Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) in the wake of a United Nations statement that a military option is now inevitable against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) following the rebel group’s failure to surrender by January 2.
“We re-affirm our commitment to the objectives for which the FIB was established, including the neutralisation of negative forces in the eastern DRC as demonstrated by the participation of our troops in various MONUSCO operations including the latest of January 5 against the rebel group Forces for National Liberation (FNL),” DIRCO’s Clayson Monyela said.
Only 151 FDLR combatants had surrendered and handed in 67 weapons when the January 2 deadline passed. This prompted a UN statement saying the six month grace period for the full and unconditional surrender of FDLR has expired and all necessary measures must be taken to disarm the rebels.
The South African military contribution to the FIB has been both ground- and air-based since its formation in 2013. 5 SA Infantry Battalion is currently the land-based unit while 16 Squadron and its home-grown Rooivalk combat support helicopter has been part of the brigade’s aerial spearhead. 5 SAI is the second infantry unit to be deployed in eastern DRC following Grahamstown-based 6 SAI.
The FIB is credited with the withdrawal of the M23 rebel group from eastern DRC.
While the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has not made any public statements about its involvement in the FIB it is widely accepted the South Africans were first to be on the receiving end of rebel attention when attacked by a group of Mai-Mai in July 2013.
The FIB has been involved in any number of skirmishes and encounters with rebel groups including at Triple Towers, Govender’s Ridge, Kitchanga, Nyiabondo/Lukweti and Beni.
The tri-nation FIB, with soldiers from Malawi and Tanzania joining their SADC colleagues in its ranks, had its first 12 month mandate extended by a year. The second mandate expires on March 31 this year and to date no indication has come from the UN Security Council on a further extension.
It is the first UN peacekeeping force ever to be given an offensive mandate to neutralise armed rebel groups threatening civilian security.