SA Defence Force trained some DRC M23 rebels
A startling revelation has been made in Parliament - some of the Democratic Republic of Congo's M23 rebels are former trainees of the SANDF.
Edward Xolisa Makaya, chief director for Southern Africa at the international relations and cooperation department told the parliamentary oversight committee on Wednesday that over the years, South Africa has been "very present" in the military training of the DRC's troops. The South African National Defence Force trained three military battalions over the years and that police trained several officers in the DRC.
In recent weeks, the M23 rebels have repeatedly threatened to meet the United Nations intervention brigade that will be deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from next month – made up of troops from South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania – with lethal force.
On Twitter, the rebel group has consistently insulted the South African army saying it was old and weak.
But Makaya added that there was a challenge due to bad governance in the the DRC where the army was not properly paid.
"Months would go by without soldiers getting their salaries. That is a source of concern; it's one of the reasons the M23 is talking about reintegration, which will address those issues," said Makaya.
He said the framework agreement signed earlier this year urges the government of the DRC to ensure it begins to focus solely on what is referred as security sector reform.
"We can train as many soldiers as we could, but if the systems of the DRC government are not up to speed, then it becomes a problem," said Makaya.
Makaya added: "It's of concern to us that reports from some of the battalions we trained are that some of the soldiers [previously trained by the SANDF] are part of the M23.
"There's nothing we can do. We train as requested and now we are going to be training another 4 000 new recruits within the provision of our bilateral provision with that country," he said to gasps around the committee room.
Makaya said the South African government has realised that it was dealing with an exceptional case in the DRC and has decided to adopt a long term view and "have that kind of patience".
Makaya said they believed that the intervention force [of 3 069 troops] will deal effectively with the rebels. "The noise from M23 is because they are now seeing a credible challenge to their existence ... they are panicking and want to play on the emotions of this country following the CAR instead," he said.
Deputy Minister of International Relations Ebrahim Ebrahim agreed with a number of MPs who sit in the committee that a political solution was needed in the DRC as the military intervention is not going to help in the long run.
South Africa will start sending troops to the DRC next month as part of the United Nations intervention brigade.
One of the regional initiatives, under the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region involves the "Kampala talks" which are facilitated by the Ugandan government between the DRC government and the M23 militia group who invaded Goma, the capital city of the North Kivu province in November 2012.
M23 has since withdrawn, as a precondition of the talks but continues to present security threat, said Ebrahim. He said the essence of the rebels' demands was reintegration into the army and political participation.
Ebrahim said the framework agreement signed in February this year articulates a set of commitments by the DRC, the region and the international community.
For the DRC government, the agreement called for renewed commitment to continue and deepen security sector reform particularly with the army and police; consolidation of state authority particularly in the eastern DRC to prevent armed groups; make progress with regard to decentralisation; further economic development expanding infrastructure and delivery of social services.
For the region, it calls for commitment not to interfere in internal affairs of neighbouring countries, not to provide support of any kind to armed groups; respect sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighbouring countries; respect legitimate concerns of neighbours and promote economic cooperation.
The UN did indicate that Rwanda and Uganda interfered in the affairs of the DRC and somehow supported the rebel forces in that area.
For the international community, the United Nations Security Council would remain seized with the importance of supporting long-term stability of the DRC and the region.
In April, when the Monusco [United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC] mandate was extended for a year, it was announced that a UN intervention brigade comprising of 3 069 troops shall be established.
It would consist inter alia of three infantry battalions, one artillery and one special force and reconnaissance company with headquarters in Goma, under direct command of the Monusco force commander.
Ebrahim said the main responsibility of the intervention brigade is to neutralise armed groups with the objective of reducing the threat posed by armed groups to state authority and civilian security in the eastern DRC.
The Monusco and the intervention brigade will take all necessary measures to protect civilians, neutralise armed groups, and monitor implementation of arms embargo established through various resolutions, said Ebrahim.
He revealed that only Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa have pledged troops to the intervention brigade, adding that they were hoping that other SADC countries would contribute their troops to the brigade.
South Africa and the DRC signed a General Cooperation Agreement signed in January 2004, the main objective of which was to promote political, economic and social co-operation between the two countries. This agreement made provision for the establishment of a bi-national commission at presidential level.
The focus of thecommission had been on post conflict reconstruction and development, essentially assisting the DRC with security sector reform, institution capacity building – which includes the training of diplomats and civil servants – public servants and economic development.
Among the South African departments involved are defence, which is training troops in the DRC, South African police training the police there, trade and industry department assisting in the development of viable economic projects and the Public Administration, Leadership and Management Academy, which is assisting in the establishment of a national school of public administration and the training of senior public servants.