Zuma headed for ICoast talks, Drakensberg remains in area

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President Jacob Zuma is undertaking a working visit to Mauritania this weekend where he will take part in a meeting of the African Union High Level Panel on the Resolution of the Crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, of which he is a member. The South African Navy replenishment ship, SAS Drakensberg, meanwhile remains on station off Ghana, diplomatic sources say.

The High Level Panel was last month established by the AU Peace and Security Council. It represents the five regions of the continent and is composed of the leaders of Mauritania (Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz), Burkina Faso (Blaise Compaoré), Chad (Idriss Déby), Tanzania (Jakaya Kikwete) and South Africa, as well as Jean Ping, chairman of the AU Commission as well as James Victor Gbeho, the president of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation says a team of experts since appointed by the Panel will this weekend submit its findings. The panel will thereafter travel to Cote d’Ivoire to meet Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara and submit to them proposals for a resolution to the current crisis that follows from the latter having won the November 28 presidential poll in an election approved by ECOWAS and the United Nations. Gbagbo has refused to accept the outcome. ECOWAS has since threatened to remove him by force, but some African leaders are opposed to this, Reuters reports.
“In accordance with the mandate from the Peace and Security Council of the AU, the panel is expected to conclude its work before the end of February, the state BuaNews agency reports. “Its conclusions, which must be endorsed by Council, will be binding on all the Ivorian parties with whom these conclusions would have been negotiated.” President Zuma will return to South Africa next Tuesday.

The South African government yesterday confirmed that the Drakensberg was diverted from participating as communication and guard ship in this year’s edition of the Cape to Rio yacht race “during the period January-February … to embark on a mission to the Gulf of Guinea.”

This is as at odds with a Department of Defence (DoD) statement earlier this month that stated the ship was “on a periodical routine training cruise along the west coast of Africa”. The yacht race was not mentioned at all. The DOD said the Drakensberg deployed early last month to train junior naval officers. “This is part of the Inter-Operability West exercise with other navies of the west coast countries to promote interoperability of the vessels [sic].” This is further at variance with the government statement that said the “training exercise is exclusively South African and not a joint operation as may have been reported in some media.”

Regarding its current mission, the statement adds: “The South African Government confirms that it instructed the SANDF [South African National Defence Force] to pre-position the SA Navy support vessel, the SAS Drakensberg, in the Gulf of Guinea for possible assistance to SA diplomats, designated personnel and other South African citizens in Ivory Coast.
“The SAS Drakensberg is presently off the coast of Ghana for the purpose of replenishing rations and exchange of the training crews. The vessel had been in international waters since it left the RSA and only entered the waters of Ghana to replenish with the full knowledge of Ghanaian authorities. She will proceed back into international waters once this is completed. To date the SAS Drakensburg [sic] has not at any stage entered the Ivorian territorial waters.
“The SAS Drakensberg is a non combatant support vessel with a non-aggressive posture.” The statement added Zuma “has since communicated the above with the President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, who is also the current chairman of ECOWAS. Reuters reported on February 8 that Gbeho had complained that the deployment of the Drakensberg was “complicating efforts to bring a peaceful resolution to the country’s post-election crisis.” Gbeho added he was disappointed with the outcome of the African Union summit where some members looked to “unravel” some of what the West African group had achieved. “The concern that some of us have is that apparently because of certain geopolitical interests, some countries are keen on awarding a failure mark to ECOWAS at this stage so that they themselves would shine,” Gbeho said.



Pic: The Drakensberg alongside in Simon’s Town