File image - The South Africa contingent of the UN peacekeepers in Congo erect a razor wire barrier around Goma airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Nine Southern African countries, including South Africa, have pledged contributions to a military force being established to go into the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a tough mandate to pacify armed militias that have been destabilising the region for years.

Angola, Malawi, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, Lesotho, Mauritius and Zimbabwe are the other countries that have pledged contributions, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Ebrahim Ebrahim disclosed at a press conference in Pretoria yesterday

He said the government had not decided what South Africa would contribute. Other officials have said it may transfer its contingent of about 1 200 troops from Monusco, the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC, into the new force, which Ebrahim said would be commanded and staffed by countries of 15-member the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

If this is done, they would graduate to the more dangerous task of peace enforcement.

Ebrahim said he had heard Lesotho had pledged 200 soldiers for the SADC contingent, to be called the Neutral International Force.

He said that at an extraordinary SADC summit in Maputo on Friday regional leaders had urged the AU Commission, SADC and the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region to engage the UN urgently about the deployment of the new force.

Ebrahim said the force would operate under a UN mandate and would require a UN Security Council resolution to authorise it.

He could not say if the SADC force would have a separate mandate from Monusco, but diplomats at the UN in New York believe the thinking is that it would have a separate and tougher mandate than the rest of Monusco.

This would enable it to engage forcefully with the many “negative forces” roaming the eastern DRC – especially the ethnic-Tutsi M23 rebels, who are widely suspected to be supported by Rwanda and possibly Uganda and who have successfully challenged the DRC army and Monusco.

They captured the provincial capital Goma in November, forcing the DRC army and Monusco to retreat.They withdrew after negotiations with the DRC government and neighbouring countries.

UN diplomats say giving just the SADC contingent rather than the whole of Monusco a tougher mandate would avert the risk of other countries with troops in Monusco pulling them out because of the greater risk they would face.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told journalists at the AU summit in Addis Ababa last month that the SADC wanted the Neutral International Force to have command autonomy so it could respond quickly to attack without having to wait for orders from Kinshasa or New York. On the other hand, the SADC wants the new force to be part of Monusco so it can be funded by the UN.

There have been concerns that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council may not agree to finance a force that is not under direct UN command, but UN diplomats believe they will do so.

The SADC and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had a disagreement over the proposed force at the AU summit, when President Jacob Zuma and other SADC leaders refused to participate with Ban in a public ceremony at which they were all to sign his proposed Peace, Security and Co-operation Framework for the force.

Mapisa-Nqakula said the SADC leaders had felt they had not been properly consulted. Also, there were disagreements about who would command the force.

But the differences have evidently been resolved as Ebrahim said the SADC summit had welcomed Ban’s initiative and commended his proposed framework setting out the responsibilities of players in achieving peace and stability in the region.

Pretoria News