MOLOKO MOLOTO, PETER FABRICIUS, SAPA-AFP, Reuters
Limpopo - For months, the SA Police Service’s Counter Terrorism Unit monitored the movements of a rebel group in a remote area of Limpopo.
On Tuesday, the surveillance paid off when members of the police’s Special Task Force pounced in an early morning raid in which 19 members of a Democratic Republic of Congo rebel group were rounded up.
Makhosini Nkosi, spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, said the group were to receive specialised military-related training to overthrow the DRC government under the leadership of President Joseph Kabila.
Early information was that among the 19 are two senior members of the M23 group, who have been arrested on suspicion of running an illegal military operation aimed at overthrowing the government of the central African country.
But Nkosi said no links had been established between the accused and M23.
“To date, no South Africans have been linked to the alleged crimes. Further arrests are, however, possible,” said Nkosi.
Police spokesman Brigadier Lindela Mashigo said the SAPS Counter Terrorism Unit of the Division Crime Intelligence had been “investigating for months, dating back from last year”.
According to Mashigo, Tuesday’s raid was conducted by the Counter Terrorism Unit and Protection Services, in conjunction with Crimes Against the State, which falls under the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation.
The men, most of whom are said to be DRC nationals, will appear in the Pretoria Regional Court either on Wednesday or Thursday and will be charged with transgressing sections 2 and 3 of the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act 15 of 1998.
A separate law enforcement official said they were members of the M23 rebels who have carved out a fiefdom in the eastern DRC’s North Kivu province, dragging the region back into war and displacing an estimated half-a-million people.
The M23 rebels, who launched their offensive after accusing Kabila of reneging on the terms of a March 2009 peace agreement, have since broadened their goals to include the removal of Kabila and “liberation” of the entire DRC.
The eastern DRC has been infested with a baffling array of rebel movements for at least the past 19 years.
The M23 are ethnic Tutsis who mutinied from the DRC army last year and launched a rebellion against the government.
They overwhelmed the DRC army and captured the provincial capital of Goma in November before withdrawing by agreement to begin negotiating with the DRC government. Rwanda’s government – also Tutsi- dominated – is widely suspected, including by the UN, of providing the M23 with military and other support.
The M23 claim they rebelled because the DRC government failed to fulfil its commitments to them.
Act traps plotters
Plotters have been arrested or charged for violating South Africa’s anti-mercenary law, known as the Foreign Military Assistance Act, since 2005.
Nigerian terrorist Henry Okah was found guilty last month on 13 counts of terrorism, including engaging in terrorism activities and detonating explosives, for detonating two car bombs in Abuja on October 1, 2010. The charges related to an explosion that rocked that country’s capital on the anniversary of Nigeria’s independence day, killing 12 people and injuring 36.
Okah, one of the leaders of the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta – a rebel group fighting the Nigerian government over a share of oil revenues – had masterminded the attack from his home in South Africa.
British businessman Mark Thatcher, the son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, admitted to bankrolling a foiled coup in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea in a plea-bargain deal with the-then elite crime-busting unit, the Scorpions, in 2005.
He paid a R3 million fine in exchange for his freedom, in the face of a five-year jail term. A resident of South Africa at the time, Thatcher had pleaded guilty in the Western Cape High Court to contravening the Foreign Military Assistance Act after his arrest on August 25.
He and fellow Briton Simon Mann were accused of commissioning a foiled coup to overthrow the then 25-year-old rule of President Teodoro Obiang.