Troops, equipment moving north to DRC, Uganda

2013-04-04 00:00

SOUTH Africa is not alone in deploying troops and military equipment in countries surrounding the Central African Republic.

Eyewitnesses have reported this week that Ugandan soldiers and fighter planes have landed at the same airport in northern DRC close to the CAR capital that the SANDF is using.

Experts have speculated that troops deployed in Uganda and the Democratic Rupublic of Congo could be sent into action in CAR and later against M23 rebels in eastern Congo.

The United Nations approved an international intervention force for the DRC shortly before Easter.

It is not certain which countries would be involved, but South Africa is set to play a leading role.

This force is only set to begin operations in July, and experts said the speedy deployment of troops and equipment this week doesn’t accord with this.

Late last year, M23 rebels overran Goma, placing South African peacekeepers in the crosshairs. They later withdrew from the eastern DRC town.

The international intervention force will have a more aggressive mandate to act against the rebels than the current UN peacekeeping force.

While an extraordinary meeting of the Economic Community of Central Africa States was under way in Chad yesterday, the SANDF said that its preparations in DRC were for its involvement in the intervention force.

President Jacob Zuma attended the Chad meeting at the invitation of President Idriss Deby. He was accompanied by ministers Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (Defence), Mate Nkoana-Mashabane (International Relations and Co-operation) and Siyabonga Cwele (State Security).

Zuma’s adviser on international relations, Lindiwe Zulu, told The Witness last night that no more troops would be sent to CAR.

“Instead, in the meeting in Chad, the president agreed to withdraw troops especially because of the discussions and agreements reached. South Africa will avail itself if asked by the region or the African Union,” she said.

SANDF spokesperson Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga told Sapa yesterday: “The SANDF is not involved in any build-up of forces as reported [in The Witness on Tuesday]”.

Gemena in northern DRC, which is just 180 km south of CAR capital Bangui, and Entebbe in western Uganda are the focus of military activity.

At least five heavy Russian cargo planes have flown from Bloemfontein and Waterkloof airbases to Entebbe and Gemena.

Witnesses said a MiG fighter jet apparently belonging to the Ugandan military has been seen in Gemena and South African Gripen fighters have been flown north. Several Mamba mine-resistant vehicles have been moved from South Africa.

AMONG the aircraft seen and indentified by their registration numbers over the past week.

• Sunday, March 24: Three military helicopters from Kinshasa land in Gemena with foreign and Congolese officers on board.

• Tuesday, March 26: A Hercules C-130 transport plane from South Africa lands in Gemena with soldiers and military equipment.

• Wednesday, March 27: An Ilyushin-76 heavylift aircraft lands in Gemena, carrying a MiG fighter jet and 25 Ugandan military personnel.

• Thursday, March 28: Another C-130 from South Africa lands at Gemena carrying crates of weapons and ammunition.

• Friday, March 29: An Il-76 from South Africa delivers two cargo containers and 20 soldiers to Gemena.

• Saturday, March 30: An Il-76 delivers white-painted military vehicles marked UN and 30 Ugandan soldiers to Gemena.

• Saturday, March 30: A South African C-130 brings soldiers and ammunition from Bangui, CAR, to Gemena.

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