SOUTHERN African countries have vowed to provide 4,000 troops for a neutral force in eastern Democractic Republic of Congo (DRC) where rebels have waged a rebellion.
President Kikwete said in Dar es Salaam at the end of Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) extra-ordinary Summit late on Saturday, that under the arrangement, Tanzania will send 800 troops and the SADC bloc would "activate" a standby brigade of about 3,000 soldiers by mid this month.
The regional bloc also urged the UN to strengthen the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force that gave up defending the city of Goma last month when Congolese troops fled from advancing M23 rebels. "This summit strongly condemned the M23 and all its attacks on the civilian population ... as well as its abuses of human rights," said Tomaz Salomao, reading a communique at the end of a summit.
The idea of a neutral force, which will cost an estimated $100 million, was first mooted several months ago but disagreement over where the troops should be drawn from has hindered its formation. There has been a lull in the fighting in Congo's eastern borderlands after the rebels pulled out of Goma earlier this month, a move they said Congolese President Joseph Kabila had demanded for peace talks to proceed.
Kabila and South African President Jacob Zuma were among the six heads of state at the summit. The rebels, widely believed to be supported by Rwanda, pose the biggest threat to Kabila in years. Rwanda strongly denies any involvement in the latest cycle of violence in Congo's mineralrich border region.
The ease at which M23 marched into Goma was seen as a major embarrassment for the UN MONUSCO peacekeeping force. President Kikwete said DRC had already deposited their contribution, and urged other members to contribute too. The leaders also discussed the political crisis in Madagascar, urging former President Marc Ravalomanana and current leader Andry Rajoelina not to run for the presidency, according to a statement.
They urged authorities in Madagascar to ensure the presidential election is held as planned on May 8 and that parliamentary elections take place on July 23. The summit urged the transitional government in Madagascar to draft legislation to guarantee privileges for former heads of state before the elections and repeal laws that exclude some citizens from voting, according to the SADC statement.
The SADC leaders also urged members to contribute to a $10 million fund to support the electoral process in Madagascar. On Zimbabwe, SADC called for the completion of the process to draft a new constitution, and conduct a referendum on the document before elections next year.
Others at the summit were current SADC chairman, President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique and Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is chairman of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, also attended to brief SADC on what the conference has done so far to try to resolve the crisis in Congo.