Dar es Salaam — The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has decided to activate its stand-by force and dispatch it to the troubled eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where rebels of the M23 movement are fighting against the Congolese government.
The unit will be under the auspices of the Neutral International force (NIF), and its commander will be appointed by Tanzania.
This decision was taken on Saturday, during an extraordinary one day summit of SADC heads of state and government in Dar es Salaam, chaired by Mozambican President Armando Guebuza, in his capacity as the current SADC chairperson.
SADC has about a week to activate its stand-by force, and the entire deployment could cost about 100 million US dollars. Part of this sum has already been made available by the DRC itself. Tanzania and South Africa have promised to send a battalion and logistical support to the NIF.
The idea for such a neutral force, to be placed along the border between the DRC and Rwanda, was backed by the African Union in September, after frustration at the failure of the United Nations force in the region (MONUSCO) to deal with the M23 rebellion.
In SADC’s understanding, MONUSCO has been unable to cope with the problem, and so the summit urged the UN to change the mandate of MONUSCO, granting it the power for direct armed reaction to any attacks.
To date, MONUSCO’s physical presence only exists to guarantee humanitarian activities. Such activities are of dubious value in an area where murder, rape and looting by armed groups are reported every day.
The summit reaffirmed the indivisibility of the DRC, and respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. It expressed deep concern at the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the eastern DRC and strongly condemned the M23 for its attacks against civilians, the UN forces and humanitarian agencies.
“We are open to dialogue, but we are also not prepared to continue watching as defenceless people are killed”, said Guebuza at a press conference held immediately after the close of the summit.
He did not specify in what way Mozambique would support the Neutral International Force, but declared that the decision was “important and necessary”. He stressed that other countries will also decide how to support the force, “because the foundations for this have already been laid”.
Guebuza stressed that SADC will work with the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the African Union, and the United Nations itself, in search of support that can ensure success for the activities of the NIF.
The current ICGLR chairperson, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who was invited to take part in the summit, said that the UN force was engaged in nothing more than “military tourism”, since its presence in the DRC had made no difference.
The summit also decided that SADC should continue efforts to persuade both the ousted president of Madagascar, Mark Ravalomanana, and the man who overthrew him, Andry Rajoelina, not to compete in next year’s general elections. It is hoped that, if both rivals withdraw, this will help overcome the political crisis that broke out with Rajoelina’s coup d’etat of March 2009. Since that date, Madagascar has been suspended from both SADC and the African Union.
Madagascar’s next presidential elections are scheduled for 18 May 2013, and parliamentary elections should follow on 25 July. In response to a request from Madagascar, SADC has promised to contribute ten million US dollars towards the costs of the elections.
The summit endorsed the report from the SADC mediator on the Madagascan crisis, former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano. It reiterated the SADC position that an amnesty law should be implemented to allow all political exiles, including Ravalomanana, to return to the country.
SADC also wanted the transitional authorities in Antananarivo to revoke all legislation that would prevent Madagascan citizens from participating in the next elections.
As for Zimbabwe, the summit urged all the political forces (essentially President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC) to conclude drafting a new Zimbabwean constitution, and putting it to a referendum before the elections scheduled for 2013.