JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa said Monday that it will contribute forces to a United Nations military mission with an unprecedented mandate to take action against rebel groups in Congo, just over two weeks after 13 South African troops died in a battle with rebels in Central African Republic.
South African troops will join a new "intervention brigade" for Congo that was authorized on March 28 by the U.N. Security Council to help bring peace to the country's conflict-wracked east. The resolution lets the brigade carry out offensive operations alone or with Congolese soldiers to neutralize and disarm armed groups.
"We will be sending forces to form part of the intervention force," said Brig. Gen. Xolani Mabanga, a South African military spokesman.
South Africa already has troops in Congo under United Nations auspices, in Sudan's Darfur region under a mandate approved by the U.N. and African Union, and in a maritime security operation in Mozambique under a bilateral deal.
It has announced plans to withdraw troops from Central African Republic, where a force of about 200 South Africans last month fought a larger group of rebels that advanced on the capital, Bangui, and overthrew the president, Francois Bozize. Opposition lawmakers in South Africa have questioned the government's explanation amid allegations that South African military tasks included the protection of Bozize, who himself seized power after a rebellion a decade ago. Bozize fled to Cameroon after his ouster and is seeking exile in the West African state of Benin.
The battle in Central African Republic damaged South Africa's reputation and showed that the troops' deployment in a bilateral arrangement had left them "exposed," said Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at Chatham House in London, a London-based institute on international affairs.
However, he said, South African troops "have not done badly" when deployed under the auspices of the United Nations or African Union, highlighting the need for logistics and clear terms of engagement.
Mabanga said none of the troops who were deployed in Central African Republic would join the South African contingent of the U.N.-approved force that will go to Congo. He declined to say how many soldiers would participate in the mission in Congo, whose mineral-rich east has been engulfed in fighting since the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
Also Monday, a spokesman for the Congolese rebel group M23 said peace talks with the Congolese government have resumed in the Ugandan capital.
Rene Abandi, who heads M23's delegation to the talks in Kampala, said both parties had met separately with their Ugandan mediator.
The talks, which started in December under the banner of a regional bloc, had been put on hold after a rift emerged within the ranks of M23 in late February.
M23 is the most prominent of many rebel groups that operate in Congo's volatile east. It is made up of hundreds of mostly Tutsi fighters who deserted the Congolese national army after accusing the government of failing to respect the terms of a peace deal reached in 2009.
Associated Press Writer Rodney Muhumuza contributed to this report from Kampala, Uganda.