SANDF Participation in UN and AU Peace Missions in DRC, Burundi and Sudan: briefing

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Defence and Military Veterans

28 February 2005
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

28 February 2005

Prof A Asmal (ANC)

Documents handed out:
SANDF Participation in UN and AU Peace Missions

The Committee was briefed by the delegation from the Joint Operations Division. The scope of current operations included missions in Sudan, Liberia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Detail on operations in the DRC was given, focusing on the South African National Defence Force contributions and an update of operations. In Burundi, SANDF activities were concerned with the protection of VIPs, which required an African Union mandate and further support. In Sudan, SANDF was involved in monitoring the cease-fire and was currently deploying troops to the Darfur region. Members were concerned with issues of safety for the troops and asked for specific detail on numbers of troops deployed and specific mandates in order to gain more information on South Africa’s contribution and activities.

Joint Operations Division briefing
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) delegation from the Joint Operations Division was made up of Maj Gen van Rensburg, Chief Director Operations Development, R Adm Ratala, Director Operations, and Col van der Walt, SSO PSO.

R Adm Ratala said that South African troops were deployed in five operations with a total current deployment of 2689 troops. The feasible deployment for South Africa was 3183 troops and the maximum approved level was 3435 troops.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
MONUC (UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo) was involved in liaison activities, monitoring the cease-fire and disengagement, disarmament, reintegration, rehabilitation and repatriation in Eastern DRC. Infantry, logistics, medical and engineering personnel were deployed. Recent activities and developments included changes to the mission concept, UN requests to South Africa for more support and investigations into sexual abuse.

Mr B Ntuli (ANC) asked about the Interhamwe militia in the DRC.

Maj Gen van Rensburg said that the military did not have any influence over issues at the political level.

Col van der Walt said that he did not want to comment on political issues as they were out of the control of the military. The UN conceptualised the inclusion of ex-pat Interhamwe members in the disarmament programme, but Rwanda may want them dealt with differently than the UN. They were also an issue between Uganda and Rwanda, so a Joint Verification Committee had been established. Demobilisation of Interhamwe was a focal point for the AU, but so far only a small number had been demobilised through joint actions of the UN and the DRC government.

The Chairperson said that the Committee should deal with questions regarding operations rather than political issues. Allegations that Rwanda would invade the Congo were incorrect, but there were security issues posed by the Interhamwe. The government in the DRC had no capacity to react against Interhamwe, which was why the UN had to act.

Mr D Dlali (ANC) said that disarmament had been difficult in the six years that SANDF had been operating in the Congo and asked how much longer it would take to convince the combatants to disarm. Capabilities of the operation in terms of disarmament should have become clear after six years.

Mr L Diale (ANC) said that South Africa needed to continue investigating where weapons in the region were coming from. He asked where the bodies of the nine peacekeepers who were killed had been taken or if they remained in the DRC.

The Chairperson said that political questions were inappropriate. The soldiers killed on 25 February 2005 were Bangladeshi, and being Muslim, they had to be buried right away.

Col van der Walt said that this was a UN mission. South African involvement dated back to 1999, but large-scale forces were only deployed in 2003. The DRC government, not South Africa, had the main responsibility to lead and initiate disarmament and reintegration. The UN was restricted in information and intelligence gathering, so South Africa’s information was of value.

Mr M Sayedali-Shah (DA) said that the presentation indicated a reduction in South African support levels and wanted to know what had informed that decision and how it affected the operational capability of the troops remaining. Sexual exploitation was an old matter and Mr Shah asked what the progress had been in investigating allegations and why it was taking so long for a report to be published.

Col van der Walt replied that reductions in deployment to the DRC of the Task Force were related to the change in mission concept. The Task Force had originally been deployed to serve as the only task force in the area, but had since been changed to include other brigades, such as the Indians and Pakistanis. South Africa would then serve as a reserve, meaning that not all of the HQ staff officers were required. A commander would be deployed in three weeks’ time as part of a UN team to visit all of the sites in the DRC and there would be extensive contact with the UN to ensure that South Africans were getting feedback on activities.

Mr O Monareng (ANC) asked for more information on the integration process of the DRC Armed Forces.

R Adm Ratala replied that there was a multilateral agreement between South Africa, Belgium and the DRC to help the DRC integrate and train the various Congolese armed forces elements into a unified army.

Col van der Walt said that this project was deployed in January and February and had encountered several difficulties, including administrative problems, because the teams from South Africa, Belgium and the DRC had been dispersed over the DRC. It had not been underway long enough to tell whether it would be successful, but it will continue until April with a possible extension of months or years. There were six brigades to be reintegrated, which would take time.

R Adm Ratala said that the country was vast and the issues in many areas were complex. In Kivus, the people had been directly dealing and trading with Rwanda rather than working through the DRC government, and it was difficult to bring these areas back under government control.

The Chairperson asked if the AU intention to disarm combatants had been changed to the removal of combatants instead. If this was the case, he asked whether it would require a change in the mission mandate. He also asked what difference a robust approach would make to the existing rules of engagement and whether a robust approach would be used in dealing with the deaths of the nine Bangladeshi soldiers. Pacification was listed as a mission concept but differed from peacekeeping. The Chairperson asked if this change in terminology anticipated a change in the mission and whether that would be an AU or UN decision to make. He also asked for specific numbers of troops in different areas of the Congo.

R Adm Ratala said that MUNOC was under the UN mandate but that Kofi Annan’s representative was considering changing the mandate. The current mandate was not meeting the needs of the situation and needed a new approach, but no changes had yet been made.

Col van der Walt said that the mission in the DRC was a Chapter 7 mandate, which allowed for the force on the ground to defend itself with all means available and to protect civilians but it was not an offensive force. A possible new mandate could be expected in the future. Reconfiguration of the forces in the Eastern Congo and the brigades in Kivus and Ituri made provision for a more aggressive approach using attack helicopters and armoured personnel carriers. The AU could adopt a parallel mandate, but the UN would have to accommodate them as a separate force which would complicate the situation further. It was unlikely that this would happen soon, but if it did, it would have to be coordinated between the AU and the UN. The Ituri incident involved Bangladeshi soldiers and there had so far been no responsibility taken for their deaths. All troops acting as part of the integrated UN multinational force enjoyed the same privileges and support. In terms of South African deployment, there were 100-200 soldiers in Kindu, 500-600 in Goma, 250-300 in Beni and the remainder were in Kirumba. The total current strength was just under a thousand troops.

The Chairperson asked if there had been any problems in the DRC and how they had been dealt with in terms of the South African forces and the overall operation.

Col van der Walt replied that there were no statistics available but that the South African troops were among the best in crisis situations. There had been several disciplinary actions taken, but this number would likely decrease.

The Chairperson said that those in charge were ultimately responsible for breaches of discipline and that responsibility could be delegated but accountability could not. He asked if this was being borne in mind by Headquarters when looking at disciplinary proceedings.

Maj Gen van Rensburg said that responsibility and accountability rested with the senior leadership.

Col van der Walt said that legal officers were deployed with every five hundred soldiers to provide assistance, and courts of military justice were flown to the mission areas to address incidents.

The Chairperson said his question had not been answered.

Maj Gen van Rensburg said that when the Chief of Defence Forces or one of his commanding officers visited the area of deployment, they stressed what was expected of the leadership in terms of ownership, punishment, command and control. They also communicated what the troops could expect from their superiors and what was expected of the troops in terms of supporting their leadership. Accountability started and ended with leadership.

Dr G Koornhof (ANC) asked what distance from the main areas of Beni, Kindu, Goma, Kirumba and Bukavu the troops were be deployed from a logistics, supply and management point of view.

Col van ver Walt replied that the distance between Kinshasa and Goma was about 2000km. Most of the area in the Eastern DRC was covered by UN air support. Driving was reserved for short distance patrols and humanitarian convoy protection.

Dr Koornhof asked how far from Beni soldiers were deployed.

Col van der Walt replied that they were deployed about 400-500km away, but that Beni was in transition, with the intention to group the battalion there as a reaction force.

The Chairperson asked the delegation to explain why a South African force was in Burundi, how long it had been there, what it had been doing and any problems it had encountered.

R Adm Ratala said that the mission in Burundi had been an AU mission but had become a UN mission in June 2004. When the UN took over, its mandate left out the protection unit. The majority of South African troops, however, were deployed in the Bujumbura region as VIP Protectors (VIPPs). Since the end of 2004, there had been a reduction in some areas of the South African Forces, as well as certain requests for extra support by the UN. Since VIPPs were not covered by the UN, a Memorandum of Understanding had to be signed with the AU to enable South African forces to act as VIPPs outside of Bujumbura.

Mr Diale wanted to know about the situation surrounding the duplication of command and control and the effect of this on the ground.

Mr Shah said that the Committee had previously been told that the VIPP unit was being withdrawn and asked why this had not happened.

The Chairperson said that there had been no indication of withdrawal, as the whole peace process depended on the protection of political parties. He asked what about the legal basis for the presence of VIPPs.

Ms S Rajbally (MF) asked what the risks of moving outside Bujumbura were, how dangerous the area was and what would be done in a case where protection was needed but there were no trained people to act as protectors.

R Adm Ratala replied that since this was a UN mission, permission had to be received from the UN to act as protectors in order to be covered by the UN mandate. When the UN took over the mission, however, they had taken no responsibility for the VIPP programme because it was not seen as part of peacekeeping. At the moment, South Africa was trying to negotiate with the AU in order to have VIPPs covered by an AU mandate.

The Chairperson said that when South African VIPs travelled to Burundi, South Africa provided its own protection. This protection was for the members of political parties in Bujumbura to enable them to meet in safety.

R Adm Ratala said that for the elections to take place, the protectors were needed. Burundians should be trained to respond to the increasing demand.

Col van der Walt said that from the beginning of the UN mission, it was clear that there would be a split of tasks and the UN was unwilling to take on VIP Protection due to its political nature. All command, control, support and sustainment then had to be duplicated from HR, logistics and other support elements to run the protection programme. Those in the UN mission were under UN rules and regulations, but the VIP Protectors were not under this dispensation. The tasking for the VIPP mission was conceptualised by South Africa, while the UN conceptualised the UN mission. The VIPP programme faced difficulties because South Africa was unable to send soldiers out without protection to back them up. The Air Force withdrew helicopters from the mission area last year because they were nearing the end of their lifespan. Instruction had been given at the beginning of December 2004 that the protectors would have to withdraw, but the programme had been extended.

The Chairperson said that they would not deal with the missions in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Liberia, but that they would look at Operation Cordite in Darfur. He wanted to know whether it was a UN mission and asked for information on the actual terms of reference for the mission and the difference between the two cease-fire agreements.

R Adm Ratala said that in spite of the cease-fire, there was still fighting. The government of Sudan did not seem willing to accept the UN mandate, so the AU was deploying forces. There would be ten South African observers deployed to assist in monitoring compliance with the cease-fire of 8 April 2004 and to assist with confidence building. Other deployments had also been requested of South Africa, including infantry and support personnel to act as an observer protection unit.

Col van der Walt said that most of the South African troops would go to Kutum but that two of the five South African platoons would go to the Military Observer Group Site in Mellit. The purpose of the mission was to observe, monitor, investigate and report, but not to take any action.

The Chairperson asked how many troops were in Sudan altogether.

Col van der Walt said that there were about 320 personnel to be deployed and that the mandate was for 339 soldiers. The strength of the mission was 1056 and was made up of 700-800 protectors and 200-300 observers. The total mission was about 3000, of which 45-50% had already been deployed.

Mr Ntuli noted that there had been an incident of mass killing and that it was the responsibility of both the AU deployment and the Sudanese government to prevent this from happening again. He asked whether there had been other such incidents taking place since deployment.

Col van der Walt replied that the Sudanese government had the obligation, the mandate and the willingness to disarm the Janjaweed and other negative forces in Darfur, but there was a need for a militia to create safety and security in the area. The Janjaweed had been used as militia in this way, making it difficult to distinguish between the Janjaweed who were committing atrocities and the security militia on the ground, so the disarmament was not taking place. The government may have stalled on disarmament because it was to their advantage to have the people taken to IDP camps by the Janjaweed. Darfur was not covered by the same number of agreements as other parts of Sudan, making it less stable, and the Sudanese government was responsible for not containing the Janjaweed.

The Chairperson said that a report on Janjaweed war criminals had been published by Professor Cassese on the UN website. The UN Security Council could have ordered an ad hoc war crimes trial but the International Criminal Court could not operate because of the United States.

Mr M Booi (ANC) asked about the points listed as Risks and Implications regarding Islamic taboos, the Sudanese attitude towards females and the AU reimbursement not being guaranteed.

Col van der Walt replied that the Risks and Implications referred to all the challenges of a UN mission and related to the stance and attitude of the Sudanese government. The Sudanese government required all troops to have a passport, which was unusual for a UN mission. The Status of Mission Agreement was outdated, but the AU was reluctant to renew it because the Sudanese government might have shut it down. Missions run by the UN had a standard right of reimbursement to contributing countries, but the AU reimbursement system did not operate well. Culture, customs and religion could also pose problems, as well as other risks in an unfamiliar environment.

Mr Shah asked whether South Africa was entering into this mission without clearing up some of these risk factors, which may put troops in danger.

Col van der Walt replied that the risks facing the troops would be covered through medical evacuation, protection from enemy fire and ensuring a link to communication with home. The African Union’s capability to provide troops with services on the ground was restricted. Medical services and resources had been contracted out but not expanded to all sectors of operation. The Surgeon-General had ordered additional medical personnel and facilities to be deployed with South African forces and contracted SOS International to provide evacuation capability. South African Engineers would construct defence structures at bases and satellite communications would be established to provide a link between Kutum and Pretoria.

R Adm Ratala said that before deployment, the troops were trained in terms of culture and appropriate behaviour.

Mr C Burgess (ID) asked how troops were disciplined, what courts they appeared in, what law was applied, how they were defended and who acted as judges and attorneys.

Dr Koornhof said that an additional R900 million over three years had been announced for peace support operations. He asked if the additional R300 million for this year had been included in the budget provided.

Col van der Walt replied that the legal system used was the Status of Nation Agreement between the UN or the AU with the host country. The troops from contributing countries would be handled by the AU or the UN but tried according to their own country’s laws and regulations. In this way, South African military lawyers would investigate a case against a South African soldier. If it was necessary for the UN to retain the member in the area for its own board of inquiry, it could, but any action against that person would be taken by his or her own country. The budget estimates included the additional R300 million.

The meeting was adjourned.


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