SA troops prepare to ‘neutralise’ Hutu rebels

2015-01-18 14:07
SANDF (Picture: AFP)

SANDF (Picture: AFP)

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Cape Town - South African troops in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are preparing for battle against Hutu rebels after they missed a 2 January deadline to surrender.

According to the Sunday Independent, the rebels, Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), who fled Rwanda after participating in the genocide against the Tutsis in 1994, said last year they would surrender. However, they failed to do so.

Last week, the DRC government informed the rebels that military intervention to neutralise them was now inevitable.

Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi form a 3 000-strong military force in the area as part of Monusco, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC. However, they have a more robust mandate to “neutralise” the numerous rebel groups in the area.

In line with the new development, the Monusco troops, including South Africa’s contingent, are preparing for battle and deploying to positions along with DRC troops.

However, it was reported that the rebels are also mobilising and mixing with civilians, which is a matter of concern as fears are they could use them as human shields.

SA has about 1 350 troops in the DRC – which is primarily a combat group from the 5th SA Infantry Battalion based in Ladysmith. They also have the support staff for three Rooivalk attack helicopters.

DRC offensive inevitable

Last week News24 reported that the Congolese government said it was only a matter of time before it launched a military offensive against the FDLR rebel group that has threatened the country's east for more than two decades.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, presidential adviser Seraphin Ngwej hinted that military action against FDLR was imminent.

He says Congo's government is determined "more than ever" to fight the group.

Since fleeing Rwanda in 1994, the FDLR have added to their ranks, attacking Congolese villages and killing an untold number of civilians.

The threat posed by the FDLR also gave rise to other fearsome rebel groups.

On Thursday, however, News24 reported that heavy fighting took place in the north-eastern region between the Congolese army and another rebel militia, the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Force (FRPI), following a breakdown of talks, UN officials said.

Colonel Felix Basse, the military spokesperson for the UN mission in Congo (Monusco) said fighters from the FRPI advanced close to a UN camp but were repelled by peacekeeping troops.

Congolese troops - who sometimes fight alongside the UN force against various rebel groups - chased the fleeing rebels to the nearby town of Gety. They captured two rebel camps while sustaining a few minor injuries, he said.

Negotiations between the rebels and the Congolese army stalled following the arrest on 5 January of the rebel leader, Cobra Matata, by Congolese authorities in the nearby city of Bunia, where he had entered talks in late November to surrender.

The rising tensions in Aveba, where some 400 rebels had massed during negotiations, has forced at least 30 000 people to flee their homes near Aveba in the last week, said Maurizio Giuliano, head of the UN humanitarian office in Congo's north-eastern Oriental Province.

The FRPI, first formed in 2002, is regarded as one of the most rapacious rebel groups operating in the region, which has reserves of copper, gold, diamonds.

Giuliano said violence had created a precarious situation and all humanitarian projects in the affected areas have been suspended for security reasons.

Monusco's military commander and his deputy both visited Aveba in the last few days to lead mediation.

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