By Mkinga Mkinga
The Citizen Reporter
Dar es Salaam. Tanzania is ready to send troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight M23 rebels who are making advances to the capital Kinshasa after capturing several key towns, including eastern city of Goma.
Tanzania’s minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr Bernard Membe, said yesterday that the country would, however, only send its troops if the UN headquarters in New York immediately mandate the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) to deploy troops in DRC to fight the anti-government rebels.
Presidents from the Great Lakes Region are meeting in Kampala today (Friday) for a crisis summit during which they will discuss the deteriorating situation in eastern DRC where the rebels have captured Goma, a nearby town of Sake which lies 20km south of Goma and vowed to press on with their offensive to take South Kivu provincial capital of Bukavu which lies 300km to the south of Goma.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mr Membe said leaders within the region under their chairman Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni have called a crisis summit to discuss the matter and see how they could arrest the situation in eastern Congo before it gets out of hand.
The minister said the UN is currently using Chapter 6 of its resolutions, which basically allows peacekeeping and not peace enforcement. In peace enforcement the UN troops would, if need be, use force to keep peace.
Presently, there over 17,000 troops under the UN who are not doing anything to protect the Congolese people and instead, they are 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 hasda 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 high time regional stakeholders took it upon themselves to stabilise the DRC. The minister said in the last two weeks, President Jakaya Kikwete talked to his counterparts Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda 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 International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) in Kampala, Tanzania pledged to send one battalion under the Sadc umbrella to fight back rebels in DRC. 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 Chapter 7 which specifically provides for action to be taken with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression.
“The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security,” part of UN chapter seven reads
The fighting in Congo escalated when the M23 rebels overran Kibati town close to DRC-Rwanda border and later on Goma city which is the North Kivu provincial capital.
Earlier last July 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.
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DR Congo accuses Rwanda of fighting a proxy war against it, which Kigali vehemently denies, calling it an internal problem that Kinshasa should solve.
President Yoweri 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 President 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.
Related story on pG 33