SA troops isolated, ‘but safe’

2012-11-22 00:00

“THEY’RE safe.”

That’s the message from the SA National Defence Force to the family and friends of the peacekeepers from KwaZulu-Natal caught up in the conflict in the eastern DRC city of Goma this week.

Of the 1 000 UN peacekeepers deployed in that town, about 300 of the soldiers are from the 121 Infantry Battalion in Mtubatuba in KwaZulu-Natal.

Yesterday, a wife of one of the soldiers expressed concern about her husband’s safety.

The woman, who only identified herself as Mrs Mathenjwa, said her husband, Bhekisisa, had left at the end of October for the DRC.

She said she had last spoken to him on Sunday. “He has not called me [about the recent incident], normally he hides such stuff from me,’ Mathenjwa said.

She usually spoke to him once a week, sometimes twice, if he had the time.

Yesterday, however, the SANDF denied newspaper reports that the South Africans had been surrounded by M23 rebels.

SANDF spokesperson Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said they were not in danger.

He described the situation in the DRC as “tense”, but said there were contingency plans for any eventuality. Mabanga said the UN mission did not have a mandate to confront the M23 rebels directly.

As far as the SANDF could discern, the rebels did not regard the UN peacekeepers as the enemy.

Nor had South Africa decided to evacuate any of its troops as reported by some media, Mabanga said.

Reuters reported yesterday that the French government had expressed frustration with the UN peacekeepers, from India, South Africa and Uruguay, who it accused had given up defending the city after Congo’s army retreated.

Paris called it “absurd” that the UN force did not protect Goma.

But a senior UN official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the withdrawal of Congolese civilian officials and troops had left a void it could not fill alone. “We’re not the army of any country, let alone the Congolese army, and it’s not for us to take positions by ourselves to stop a rebel attack, or the movement of rebels,” the official said.

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