Tanzania is ready to send troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight M23 rebels who are making advances to the capital Kinshasa, a minister has said.
Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation minister Bernard Membe said Thursday that the country would, however, only send its troops if the UN headquarters in New York immediately mandated the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to deploy troops in DRC.
Presidents from the Great Lakes Region are meeting in Kampala Friday for a crisis summit during which they will discuss the deteriorating situation in eastern DRC where the rebels have captured Goma and Sake, 20km away, and vowed to press on with their offensive to take the South Kivu provincial capital of Bukavu, 300km south of Goma.
Mr Membe said leaders within the region under their chairman, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, had called a crisis summit to discuss the matter and see how they could arrest the situation.
The minister said the UN was currently using Chapter 6 of its resolutions, which basically allowed peacekeeping and not peace enforcement. In peace enforcement, the UN troops would, if need be, use force to execute their mandate.
Presently, there were over 17,000 troops under the UN who were not doing much to protect the Congolese people and instead, they were only “observing things”.
“We condemn what the rebels are doing in eastern Congo…it is unacceptable to Tanzania. But there is an International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) in Kampala tomorrow (today), which was called expressly to discuss the matter,” Mr Membe said.
He said the situation in eastern Congo had huge impact on all East African states and, if left unchecked, would result in huge numbers of refugees and internally displaced people.
He said it was time regional stakeholders took it upon themselves to stabilise the DRC. The minister said in the last two weeks, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete talked to his counterparts Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Museveni and Joseph Kabila of the DRC on the current crisis facing eastern Congo.
“Tanzania wants the rebels to leave Goma and other important areas they are occupying to allow for talks, or UN should give the go ahead for SADC troops to immediately be part of the mission assisting the DRC government troops,” Mr Membe said.
He maintained that, after the August ICGLR summit in Kampala, Tanzania pledged to send one battalion under the SADC umbrella to fight back the rebels. A battalion comprises between 700 and 800 soldiers.
SADC was set to send about 4,000 soldiers to Congo after the UN confirmation of issuing a Chapter 7 mandate, which specifically provides for action to be taken with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression.
The fighting in Congo escalated when the M23 rebels overran Kibati town close to DRC-Rwanda border and later moved on to Goma, which is the North Kivu provincial capital.
In July, the M23 rebels captured Rutshuru and Kiwanja towns along the 1,000km highway linking the DRC-Uganda border town of Bunagana and Kisangani in the north eastern Congo.
The DRC accuses Rwanda of fighting a proxy war against it, which Kigali vehemently denies, calling it an internal problem that Kinshasa should solve.
President Museveni holds the chair of the ICGLR summit, which he assumed in December last year.
The 11 members of ICGLR are Uganda, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, the DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia.
Meanwhile, M23 leader Bishop Jean Marie Runiga has rejected calls by Presidents Museveni and Kagame that the rebels withdraw from Goma and other towns they hold in eastern Congo.
By Mkinga Mkinga
- Africa Review