The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Nation to Deploy in DRC. . . Kinshasa to Meet Costs, Operation to Last One Year, SADC Okays Move

ZIMBABWE will deploy troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of a neutral Sadc force pledged by the regional bloc to resolve the armed conflict in the eastern part of that country.

Fighting between the government of President Joseph Kabila and M23 rebels has been raging for the past few months.

The M23 rebels have waged a brutal onslaught against the government of President Kabila and are reportedly backed by Rwanda.

The UN has singled out Rwanda as the "money and brains" behind the M23 rebel movement, led by renegade General Bosco Ntaganda.

Gen Ntaganda, notoriously called Terminator, reportedly defected from the DRC army earlier this year after a fallout with President Kabila on the integration of former rebels and military service conditions.

He is now believed to be leading the rebel movement made up of mutineers from the DRC army and his former rebel cohorts in the earlier civil war.

Indications are that he operates out of Rwanda with President Paul Kagame's backing.

Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ambassador Joey Bimha confirmed the deployment of the ZDF yesterday.

This followed an approval by regional leaders at a Sadc Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government in Tanzania last Friday to deploy a neutral force in the eastern DRC to ensure peace.

"As such, Zimbabwe will contribute troops to that eastern area of the DRC to work with other countries in the region who will also contribute troops under the Sadc Standby Force," said Ambassador Bimha.

"Zimbabwe, being a member of Sadc, is obliged by the (Sadc) Treaty and Protocol on Defence and Security to assist DRC because the country is also a member of the regional bloc.

"The Sadc-mandated force will be a neutral international force and will monitor both sides as the regional bloc moves to ensure there is peace in the region."

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who co-ordinates the Sadc forces, said he expected them to be ready for deployment by tomorrow.

Ambassador Bimha could not reveal the number of Zimbabwean soldiers to be part of the Sadc team.

He said the troops would be funded by the DRC government with assistance from the United Nations and the African Union.

The neutral Sadc troops, Ambassador Bimha said, would work with other troops under the banner of the UN and the AU.

They would assist in keeping the warring parties apart and achieving some level of stability.

It would be the second time for Zimbabwe to send troops to the vast central African country.

In 1998, Sadc mandated Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe to deploy in the DRC against rebel groups backed by Rwanda and Uganda.

The rebels were tacitly supported by the United States and some European countries.

Ambassador Bimha said the soldiers were expected to be in the DRC for at least a year.

"In terms of funding, we expect the DRC Government to contribute for the upkeep of the force and other expenses and for the meantime, the United Nations and the AU will also be helping fund the mission," Ambassador Bimha said.

Zimbabwe Defence Forces director of public relations Colonel Overson Mugwisi yesterday said the nation would be informed accordingly on the matter.

"When that decision is made by the Government of Zimbabwe, the nation will be informed accordingly," he said.

At last week's meeting, Tanzania promised to contribute a battalion, while other Sadc member states said they would "activate" a standby brigade of 3 000 soldiers by mid-December.

The 1998 deployment by Sadc, dubbed Operation Sovereign Legitimacy, fostered an uneasy peace that enabled the vast country to hold its first elections in 45 years.

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