Business Day (Johannesburg)

Southern Africa: More U.S. Soldiers Not Welcome in Africa, Says Lekota

Cape Town — More armed US soldiers are not welcome in Africa, said Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota yesterday.

Any country that allowed itself to be a base for the US strategic command in Africa (Africom) would have to live with the consequences, Lekota said.

Africom's recent creation has been interpreted as the US suddenly recognising the strategic importance of Africa to the US.

Last month it was reported that Lekota was not responding to US requests for him to meet the first Africom commander, Gen Kip Ward.

Briefing the media yesterday, Lekota said the Southern African Development Community (SADC) defence ministers had, at the summit in Lusaka this month, decided that no member states would host Africom and more armed US soldiers.

He said this was also the "continental position" of the African Union.

However, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has evidently already offered her country as a base for Africom.

Lekota said as far as he knew most African countries supported the view that the Americans should keep their distance.

He said there might be a minority that felt Africom was welcome but, as was the case in democracy, the will of the majority prevailed.

He warned strongly that any country that did not abide by the view that US soldiers should not have an enlarged presence in Africa as part of Africom would have to consider the consequences. These could amount to neighbouring African countries refusing to co-operate with them.

"Africa has to avoid the presence of foreign forces on its soil, particularly if any influx of soldiers might affect relations between sister African countries," Lekota said. The idea of a renewed US focus on Africa was not new, he said.

"Nevertheless, the SADC has adopted the position that it would be better if the US did it from a distance", and did not cause instability in Africa.

R-Adm Robert Moeller of the US was reported last month as arguing that the goal of the US with Africom was to help build the capacity of African organisations such as the African Standby Force to promote peace and security and respond to crises on the continent.

Simon Tisdale wrote in the London-based Guardian: "Africom marks the official arrival of America's 'global war on terror' on the African continent."

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