SA isn’t going to war, but technically it could be

2015-01-28 21:03

Will South African soldiers find themselves in a war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or won’t they? It depends on how you look at it.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has denied that the SA National Defence Force was involved in a “war”, even though she admitted they could get involved in conflict.

“There is no war we are involved in. What we are involved in is a process of neutralising the negative forces which was agreed upon by heads of state when we in the first instance deployed the FIB,” she said.

The FIB refers to the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade in the east of the DRC, of which the SANDF forms part, together with countries like Malawi and Tanzania.

The intervention was sanctioned about a year ago, but it was primarily aimed at helping the DRC army defeat the M23. They then turned their attention to the Force for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which volunteered to disarm and surrender within six months.

The group, however, failed to meet its January 2 deadline.

Mapisa-Nqakula said it wasn’t about “eliminating” anybody, “because you can never say you’re going to eliminate a negative force”.

She said the approach was to “demobilise (FDLR) by disarming” and the force commander Brig Gen James Aloisi Mwakibolwa said he did not want any casualties.

She said the force didn’t want any civilian casualties, and would go from village to village to disarm the “negative forces”.

But there was the possibility of bloodshed. “In the event a negative force then decides to attack the forces which will be conducting these raids, that’s when there will be combined action, obviously there will be confrontation at that point,” she said.

She said, however, that this wasn’t South Africa’s decision to make, but that of the commander.

“It would be unfortunate if the operation gets to a point where there would be confrontation and casualties,” she said.

She also said before South African troops got involved in any military action, President Jacob Zuma would brief Parliament about it and explain the reason for the action.

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told journalists yesterday: “An attack can happen as we are sitting here you and I, or it can happen tomorrow, or the day after, depends on their state of readiness,” she said.

“They (the FIB) have identified the sites, which one they will start with first. It is up to them to decide whether they have combed this area and when they move on to the next one. But they are quite confident they are going to be methodical, because we want no come-backs. Our role is to neutralise negative forces,” she said.

A SA government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said technically South African troops were going to war, because the resolution to intervene in the DRC was made under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which allows the council to take military or non-military action to restore peace and security.

He said, however, it wasn’t South Africa that would be at war, but its soldiers would technically be, as part of the UN’s intervention brigade.

He said there was a delay to the intervention because the DRC government had to sign a directive requesting assistance to disarm the FDLR first.

The DRC issue is set to be discussed by the AU Peace and Security Council meeting tomorrow evening.

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