The Herald (Harare)

Southern Africa: 'We Have Not Deployed in DRC' . . . President Says SADC Standby Brigade Will Help Kinshasa, Tanzania Is Commander of the Regional Force

Zimbabwe has not deployed troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo, but will only contribute soldiers to a Sadc Standby Brigade for a peacekeeping mission in that country, President Mugabe has said.

The President told journalists in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, last week that the Sadc forces would help the DRC government repel the Rwandan-backed M23 rebels.

"We have not deployed our troops in DRC," said President Mugabe, who is the Head of State and Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, said.

"There is a Standby Brigade and people should have known by now that Sadc has its Standby Brigade.

"It is not Zimbabwe alone going to DRC . . . that is the Brigade which is there to take care of any nonsense by way of a coup or revolt. It is Tanzania which is the commander."

President Mugabe said it was Sadc's duty to defend member states from revolts and rebel aggression.

He said Sadc had a Standby Brigade that was launched in Zambia in 2007 to protect the territorial integrity of member states. In this case, President Mugabe said, it was that force deployed in eastern DRC where M23 rebels have launched an onslaught against President Joseph Kabila's government.

Sadc as the regional body is responsible for the costs of such operations.

The decision to deploy the Standby Brigade in DRC was reached at an Extra-Ordinary Summit of Sadc Heads of State and Government held in Tanzania recently. It was agreed that a neutral force of 4 000 troops should be deployed in the DRC to restore peace.

The 14 Sadc member states contribute troops to the force and Tanzania pledged an additional battalion.

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

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

He is 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.

In 1998, Sadc mandated Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe to deploy in the DRC against rebel groups backed by Rwanda and Uganda. The United States and some European countries tacitly supported the rebels.

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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