The Namibian (Windhoek)

Southern Africa: No Nam Troops to DRC

NAMIBIA will not contribute any troops to the SADC Standby Force for the Democratic Republic of Congo, but will assist the mission in other ways.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) last weekend pledged to send 4 000 troops to form a neutral force in eastern Congo, where rebels have waged an eight-month siege.

SADC also asked the United Nations (UN) to strengthen the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in the region.

The permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Veiccoh Nghiwete, yesterday confirmed that Namibia had not pledged any troops to go to the DRC as part of the SADC forces.

“Every member state has to look at what it can offer. Maybe the government will decide what Namibia can afford,” Nghiwete said.

He said it was not a matter of limited resources, but rather a decision for Government to make.

“The government is seized with the matter. Even though Namibia is not sending troops, it will see in what form Namibia can assist the DRC. There are many ways Namibia can assist,” Nghiwete said.

He would not say what options were being considered, but said that Government might arrive at a decision before the end of the year.

This time round, Tanzania has decided to send a battalion of soldiers and SADC has decided to activate a standby brigade of about 3 000 by the middle of this month.

South Africa will also not provide troops, but will give logistical support to the SADC intervention.

The ‘neutral force’ is anticipated to cost an estimated US$100 million.

In what was considered a controversial move, Namibia, Angola and Zimbabwe in 1998 sent troops to the DRC to back the then embattled president Laurent-Desire Kabila against the rebel group M23 that has now taken over Goma.

M23 has since withdrawn from Goma after talks mediated by the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni.

Namibia sent troops to the DRC amid heavy public criticism. At the time, Defence Minister Erkki Nghimtina confirmed that at least 30 Namibia Defence force members died during their tour of duty while many others were reportedly injured. Back home, President Sam Nujoma and his government faced intense flak from opposition parties, as well as international donors.

Western governments, especially European countries, were concerned over whether development aid was being used indirectly to help fund Namibia’s deployment in the DRC. At the height of the tussle, Nujoma branded the European Union (EU) as “selfish imperialists and liars”.

“We cannot allow Africa to be ruled by foreigners. Africa must be controlled by Africans. These Europeans: they formed a political union (the EU) and again they want to get our raw materials without paying us,” he thundered.

Finland cut its aid to Namibia due to the country’s involvement in the DRC war and saw its outspoken Ambassador Kari Karanko withdrawn. The official word was that the career diplomat was told to leave the country because of his outspokenness and “undiplomatic behaviour”.

Finland announced it would phase out its development aid to Namibia by 2007 after being one of Namibia’s main donors spending US$50 million over the past 11 years.

There was also a brief but furious diplomatic row which saw South Africa suspend a shipment of 160 Samil military vehicles and 24 140 mm G-2 cannons to Namibia.

Namibia is also said to have been given a diamond mine in the DRC as a gift for its military assistance to the country, but this was denied by the authorities.

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