December 04, 2012
Tanzania is prepared to send troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to combat the March 23rd Movement (M23) fighting to overthrow the Congolese government, Tanzanian officials told Sabahi.
Tanzanian troops would be deployed as part of a peacekeeping mission under a United Nations mandate, the same way they have been deployed to other countries in the region, Tanzania People's Defence Force spokesman Colonel Kapambala Mgawe said Friday (November 30th).
"Tanzania has been involved in peace, training and advisory missions to many countries," he told Sabahi, explaining that Tanzanian troops have been in missions to Lebanon, Darfur, South Sudan, the Comoros and Liberia.
"Tanzania never goes to any respective country without a request from that country or from the United Nations," he said.
Mgawe said that while the DRC conflict does not pose a specific threat to Tanzania, regional leaders are increasingly concerned about the instability it could create.
Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) member states are working together to ensure democratic governments in the region are not threatened or overthrown by rebels, and that the rule of law prevails, he said.
M23 was formed on April 4th this year when nearly 300 soldiers turned against the DRC government, citing poor conditions in the army and the government's unwillingness to implement a March 23, 2009 peace agreement for which they are named.
M23 has also accused DRC President Joseph Kabila of cheating in the November 2011 elections, which were marred by violent protests, widespread logistical problems and international criticism.
M23's November 20th capture of Goma, the capital of the resource-rich North Kivu province, eight months after they launched their uprising against the government, sparked fears of a wider war and major humanitarian crisis, AFP reported.
The group withdrew from Goma on Monday (December 3rd), although fighters remain close to the city and have not yet pulled back the full 20 kilometres agreed upon in a regionally brokered deal.
M23's political leader Jean-Marie Runiga said Tuesday that his group was ready for talks with the government.
Negotiations will begin "in the next few days in Kampala", DRC Interior Minister Richard Muyej Mangez confirmed. He said the government would send a "full team" including key civil society leaders and members of the national assembly and senate.
However, Kabila -- who M23 has demanded step down from power -- is not expected to attend the initial negotiations.
At the same time, UN experts produced what they said was new evidence that "strongly upholds" previous accusations that Rwanda and Uganda had backed M23.
The report, obtained by AFP on Monday, says that Rwanda and Uganda helped M23 stage their offensive, with Uganda providing logistical support and hundreds of Rwandan troops joining the force that took Goma.
Both Rwanda and Uganda have strongly denied involvement in the conflict.
While tensions remain high, Tanzania is going ahead with plans to deploy one battalion comprising 700 to 800 soldiers under SADC oversight, pending the UN mandate, Tanzanian Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Bernard Membe said.
In August, the 11 member states of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGRL) requested that the SADC send 4,000 soldiers to the DRC upon issuance of a Chapter 7 UN mandate, which gives peacekeepers the authority to take action when civilians are under imminent threat.
So far, the UN has only allowed peacekeepers to defend themselves in case of attack under Chapter 6 of its mandate, which does not allow a pro-active role.
"We condemn what the rebels are doing in eastern Congo," Membe said. "It is unacceptable to Tanzania." To enforce peace in the DRC, troops may need to use force to execute their mandate, he said.
"Tanzania wants the rebels to leave Goma and other important areas they are occupying to allow for talks, or the UN should give approval to SADC troops to immediately be part of the mission assisting the DRC government troops," he said.
The DRC conflict is important to Tanzania because if left unchecked, it could have social and political repercussions on East African states, Membe said. Tanzania could receive a large influx of refugees if the conflict spreads, making the nation more vulnerable to security threats, he said.
Tanzania has hosted refugees from Burundi and the DRC since the early 1990s. As of January, there were more than 130,000 refugees in the country, about half from the DRC, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Membe said regional stakeholders must show leadership and take a pro-active approach to stabilise the situation.
On November 24th, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete met with Kabila, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the 5th summit of the ICGRL.
The ICGRL called on M23 to cease all war activities, and called on both M23 and the government to adhere to previous agreements. Participants at the meeting also urged regional countries to take a greater role in ensuring peace in the DRC.
Citizens in Dar es Salaam expressed differing opinions about whether Tanzania should engage in a military operation in the DRC.
Omary Mkonge, 75, said he is against the government sending soldiers to the DRC. "There is no need for us to intervene in a war that will cost our country dearly," he said. "You see, 33 years after the war with Uganda, our country has not yet economically stabilised. We still have the scars of the war."
Mkonge said the government should use its resources to help rural Tanzanians, some of whom live in extreme poverty.
Kambarage Manuga, 80, commended Tanzania's decision to send peacekeeping troops to the DRC to help protect those who are vulnerable.
"In any war, from my long experiences, women, children and old people are the ones who suffer the most," she told Sabahi. "I support the move by my government to intervene in the DRC conflict. You cannot remain at peace when your neighbour's house is burning."
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