Deployment of SANDF in Burundi: briefing


14 November 2001
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


14 November 2001

Chairperson: Mr J Mashimbye (ANC)

Documents handed out
PowerPoint Presentation by the Defence Force on the deployment of forces in Burundi (available here on 22 November)

The Committees were briefed by the Minister and other officials on the deployment of South African soldiers in Burundi to protect exiled leaders returning to Burundi. The Minister indicated that the deployment is unusual as it does not fall within the United Nations criteria for the deployment of the military to another country as there is no cease-fire in place. The deployment has however been sanctioned and recognized by the United Nations Security Council as being necessary. The briefing included the financial aspect of the operation.

The Minister of Defence, Mr Mosioua Lekota, pointed out that this deployment is not a deployment that fell within the usual prescriptions of the United Nations as it is not a Chapter 6 nor Chapter 7 deployment. It is a sui generis deployment in a sense because it does not fall within the United Nations criteria for the deployment of the military to another country. What makes it unique is that there is no cease-fire in place. Certain rebel forces fighting against the government of Burundi had not signed any cease-fire agreement. The two opposing political parties, the FML and the FDD, are not participating in the interim government. The deployment is also not a peace enforcement operation because the only function of South African soldiers deployed in Burundi is to protect the returning leaders (who had gone into exile at the time of the genocide and who have now committed themselves to an interim government). The South African platoon is referred to as the special protection unit because they are not engaged in a confrontation with the rebel armed forces.

Mr J Masilela (Secretary of Defence) introduced all the members of the delegation and handed over to Mr Tshepo Motumi (Deputy Director General: Chief Policy and Planning).

Nature and Scope of the Deployment
Mr Motumi remarked that the issue around the deployment of troops in Burundi had moved fast from the time that South Africa became involved in the operation. The original facilitator of the Burundi peace process was former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere. He was replaced by South African former president Nelson Mandela. Apart from the facilitator's involvement, the government had also been deployed in the process. Several meetings have been held both in South Africa and in Arusha to try and seek a solution to Burundi. In April 2001 the Minister of Defence convened a meeting of Ministers of Defence from Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal to look at ways to reinforce the facilitator's process to reach a settlement in Burundi. A further meeting was held in July this year which served as a framework for the establishment of the Military Technical Committee composed of four participating countries. The function of the Technical Committee was to ensure that the Arusha Reconciliation and Peace Agreement is effective and it looked at various alternatives to enforce the Arusha Agreement. The Burundi government endorsed the Technical Committee's 11 October resolution to deploy South African troops. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the South African and the Burundi Governments on 26 October 2001. This Understanding laid a legal framework within which South African troops were to be deployed. In accordance with Section 201 of the Constitution, the South African parliament was informed of the nature and extent of the deployment. Three days later, the United Nations Security Council, acting in accordance with Resolution 1375, endorsed the operation of the deployment of South African troops in Burundi. This gave international recognition and legitimacy to South Africa's efforts to ensure the stability in that country.

Funding Aspects of the Deployment
Mr Rautenbach (DOD Finance) addressed the committee on the finance aspect of the operation. The deployment of the South African army to Burundi was not covered in the Defence's budget allocation as the Department ha been unable to foresee the nature and scope of such deployment. The allocation for defence for 2001 only covers the plan as it has been approved by parliament. The deployment in terms of the PFMA is therefore regarded as unforeseen. The initial costing was 1.5 billion rands. This has substantially changed. The deployment was initially based on 1 467. At that stage the information was sketchy in terms of the availability of services and infrastructure in Burundi. The monopolistic spending conditions that were provided by Burundi complicated the issue of working out a decent estimate of expenditure as the Department of Defence is unable to determine the availability or the cost of the commodities in that country.

The revised costing before the committee is based on the following factors: a complement of 701, a deployment of 12 months, a rotation of the currently deployed troops after 6 months. The preparation phase of the operation is R39 million, mobilization phase is R 1 million, the airlift to Burundi is R 63 million, the sustainment is R 149 million. It is estimated that the cost of demobilization be about R282 million. The total cost for the 12 month period stands at about R535 million for the deployment of 701 troops.

There is a possibility of the second contingent that may be deployed. This would double the expenditure. There is no written confirmation of donor funding at this stage despite the fact that the department has had indications and is in negotiations with the Belgium government and the European Union for donor funding. Belgium is likely to contribute 5 million dollars and the European Union will contribute 10 million dollars. The UK and the US have shown an interest in providing donor funding but the amount is unknown.

The Minister of Defence added that Denmark has pledged US 5 million and the EU has pledged US 18 million. This firm commitment totals US 23 million. None of this money has been delivered yet. The UK has made a commitment but it is not known how much it or the US will contribute yet. This shows that the international community is in support of the efforts to ensure peace in that land, particularly because it is being led by African nations for themselves.

Mr Smith (IFP) commented that his party supports the military operation in Burundi. Mr Ngculu (ANC) said that he also supports the deployment of the military in Burundi.

Mr Jankelson (DP) asked what guarantees are in place that the South African troops are safe during the entire operation, what time frames are envisaged for the deployment and how does the government justify the spending of so high an amount to hungry South African citizens. His constituency, the north-eastern Free State area of QwaQwa, has more than 88% unemployment and 75% of those persons suffer from hunger while their government is spending R535 million on peacekeeping operations in a foreign country.

Minister Lekota replied that South Africa may deploy up to two battalions for the purposes of protecting the leaders who return to Burundi. South Africa has so far deployed only one battalion of 701 soldiers based on the report of the technical team and the sense of the political situation this is deemed sufficient to secure the leaders. The number may be increased if there is an escalation of hostilities. The deployment is meant to last up to six months - not up to a year. The Burundian Interim government has asked the South African force to train some 600 Burundian soldiers so that when the time for the deployment of the South African troops expires they are in a position to take over as VIP protection unit.

Regarding the justification of spending such a huge amount, the Minister replied that South Africa as a member of the United Nations has committed itself to world peace. South Africa must not wait until everybody in the country has had something to eat before committing itself to world peace. This is something which the country committed itself upfront. The Deputy President had indicated that the costs of the deployment will not be from South African monetary resources - it was to be fully paid for by the international community. South Africa was duty bound to create some peace in Burundi in order to set a framework for the stabilization of the continent

Mr Groenewald asked what factors will influence the decision to double the number of the soldiers because this will double the allocated budget.

The Minister replied that a factor would be the escalation of military hostility. However, if a cease-fire is reached before the expiry of the six month period, South Africa will withdraw its military forces and they will be replaced by forces from Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria. Mali has pledged personnel deployment in Burundi with or without the cease-fire and UN mandate.

Operational Details
General Timothy Busani Nxasana (Defence Intelligence) briefed the committee on the operational details. He referred to a slide presentation depicting the exact locality of Burundi on the map of the African continent and providing the following details: Burundi is smaller than Lesotho, has a population of 7 million people, has about seven important cities and is very mountainous. It has three national commercial roads and its small airports, Bujumbura airport being the largest, are not suited for the landing of large commercial aircraft. The country has about five military regions. The northern region is peaceful which has led the United Nations to begin the process of its development. The internal security situation is characterized by the continuation of attacks by the FDD and the FNL. Armed groups ambush vehicles an..d kill passengers. The rebels have forced young boys from 10 - 16 years old to join the FDD army. The Burundi Defence Force has succeeded in rescuing a few of these boys. The number of hostile incidents are on the increase because these two parties did not sign the peace accord.

Structure of the forces
General Lusse spoke to the slide presentation. He remarked that there is a Protection and Support Attachment Mission based in the Headquarters which is composed of 50 members. There is also a Protection Unit that is composed of 700 members and a Guard and Security Unit consisting of 500 members. There is a Medical Unit of 32 members. There are about 40 interpreters.

Any standard deployment of troops to another country has three phases.
- The preparation phase
- The mobilization phase
- The protection element.

The preparation phase is usually marked by a call from the Minister to deploy personnel in a particular country. The mobilization phase consists in preparing for the mission and, finally the protection element is usually composed of ensuring the safety of a country to be targeted by looking at its demographics. He mentioned that it is envisaged that the mission will have been completed by the 1 June 2002 so that the Burundian and other forces from Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal can take over.

Military Strategic Objectives
The objective of the operation is to protect returning political opposition leaders to enable them to participate in transitional government. The other objective is to establish a neutral military presence in Burundi to contribute to an environment of free and fair political activity.

The Chairperson asked about the welfare of South African soldiers in Burundi. Has there been any casualties or threats to our soldiers?

The General indicated that there were two issues of major concern to the deployed troops: malaria infection and black mambas that infest the area. The military has already sent home five members of the personnel for misbehaviour or indiscipline. The army follows zero tolerance approach as far as discipline is concerned. If a member goes AWOL for a second time, that member is sent home.

Mr Smith asked from where South African troops receive their food supplies - the RSA or another source?

General Lusse replied that South Africa initially transported all its food supplies. However, it is anticipated that the forces will later rely on the local Burundian suppliers for food supplies.

Mr Schmidt (DP) expressed dismay that R535 million was spent to protect only seven exiles. This was a waste of money. It would have made more sense if, say, fifty persons were to be protected. He remarked that the operation should go back to the drawing board. He stressed that the deployment was unacceptable due to its high cost.

Mr Masilela (Secretary of Defence) replied that the operation had full support of the United Nations Security Council and the Government of Burundi. The Department of Defence does not regard the operation as fruitless at all and money has been well spent on it. He stressed that the R535 million is an estimate of the money required over a period of a year.

Mr B. Ntuli (ANC) asked about the ethnic composition of the indigenous peacekeeping force in Burundi and whether it was sufficiently balanced with Tutsis and Hutus.

Mr Masilela replied that the indigenous peacekeeping force had to be ethnically balanced because of the ethnic dynamics prevailing in that country. It must be composed of both Hutus and the Tutsis. South Africa is bound to be neutral as far as the selection process is concerned. The final decision on its composition will come from the Burundi interim government, not South Africa.

General Lusse added that it was generally difficult to determine who is a Hutu or a Tutsi. It was only history that could determine this as these people look similar, speak the same language and stay together.

An ANC member did not agree with Mr Schmidt's sentiments, saying that the deployment of South African troops in Burundi was perfectly acceptable. She asked if there was any cooperation between South African and Burundian forces at the present time.

Mr Ndlovu remarked that the principle behind the deployment had been succinctly stated by the Minister of Defence. It had also been made clear why the budget was so high and that it was a year's budget instead of only six months. Further, most of the funding for the operation was to be from outside sources. He asked what the five SANDF members had done to warrant being dismissed and sent back home.

General Lusse replied that the reason behind the dismissal is that these members had gone to a disco in town, without leave of absence, and returned in the early hours of the morning. They were given a reprimand but they did not heed this and returned to the same disco. They were sent home because South African forces would be embarrassed if rebel forces were to take any one of those recalcitrant members hostage.

Mr Ngculu remarked that the Defence Committee should be united on a matter as important as the Burundi operation and embrace the mission wholeheartedly.

Mr H Smit (NNP) agreed with Mr Ngculu's comments. He said that peace has no price on the continent. Peace contributes to the sustainability and development of the continent. He said that he understood that part of the operation has been funded by the UN Security Council. He was interested in finding out if other African countries have created a pool of resources that would help to fund part of the operation.

Mr Mashimbye remarked that it was a pity that the briefing delegation did not include a medical personnel member as he would have liked a briefing on what special provisions have been made against malaria. He also wanted an explanation behind the non deployment of fighter aircraft because such aircraft demonstrate the presence of a nation in an area of deployment without shooting any missiles at anybody.

General Lusse replied that every deployed soldier had received prophylactics for the prevention of contracting malaria. They were also provided with insect repellant and mosquito nets for their sleeping quarters. Each soldier is tested weekly as a preventative measure. A South African medical task team is deployed in Bujumbura for these purposes.

He said that fixed winged aircraft would not be deployed unless there is a real threat. Mr Motumi added that the deployment of fighter aircraft would have a variety of implications, such as sending a bad signal or message to Burundi.

Mr Jankelson said that he supported Adv. Schmidt's comments. He asked what rules of engagement apply to the troops on the ground.

General Lusse replied that the rules of engagement fall within the prerogative of the commander of the South African forces with his staff officers. Security considerations are also taken into account to determine the rules of engagement. A copy of the rules of engagement has been approved by the United Nations - as applying particularly to African countries.

Mr Ngculu appreciated the briefing from the Department and said that it was important for the Committee to support the process. He proposed that the Committee draft a resolution supporting the South African activities in Burundi.

Mr Mashimbye replied that Mr Ngculu was perfectly in order and a resolution would be drafted at the end of the meeting.

Mr Schmidt said that the Democratic Party could not agree to any document whose contents they have not seen.

Mr Mashimbye replied that the content of the document was to be drafted at the meeting. It was only necessary that the committee should agree to endorse the South African operation or presence in Burundi as part of the peacekeeping process.

Mr Schmidt was concerned that civilian aircraft had been used to transport troops for a military operation.

General Lusse replied that it was usual, even for the United Nations, to use civilian aircraft for transportation of soldiers for a peacekeeping operation. If it were not safe, civilian aircraft would not have been used.

Mr Ndlovu added that the use of private airplanes showed some sense of friendliness of the military operation. It would have been different if military planes were used because this would have symbolised a level of aggression. He added that it was essential that the committee be united on this matter. A portrayal of division would mean that the troops have to return from their operation.

Mr Mashimbye concurred with Mr Ngculu's comments that the committee should essentially support the South African government's decision to deploy the troops in Burundi. South Africa has a historical role to play in the region and therefore it needed to intervene to ensure the maintenance of peace in the country of Burundi.

In principle, this was finally accepted by all members of the committee. The meeting was adjourned. Certain members remained to draft the resolution motion.


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