South African army prepares for Congo

AP News
Posted: May 16, 2013 9:00 AM

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — South African soldiers who are training for a United Nations military mission in Congo will be adequately prepared even though the South African army as a whole is overstretched and underfunded, the army chief said Thursday.

Lt. Gen. V.R. Masondo also told media at a briefing that the South African units bound for Congo are being helped in their training by troops who participated in a mission in Central African Republic, or CAR. In March, rebels there killed 14 South African soldiers while seizing the capital, Bangui, and overthrowing President Francois Bozize.

"We have taken heed of the CAR incident and will incorporate the lessons learned from this in preparing for future operations," Masondo said without elaborating. Analysts said the South Africans lacked air cover and there were questions about why they deployed under a bilateral deal rather than under U.N. or regional auspices.

The U.N. Security Council has authorized a new "intervention brigade" for Congo with a mandate to take offensive military action against rebel groups to help bring peace to the eastern part of the vast, mineral-rich country, beset by fighting since the end of the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda. The Congolese army said 32 people were killed in fighting between Congolese soldiers and militiamen who attacked a town north of Goma on Wednesday.

Masondo said the South African army's budget of about $1.1 billion is not enough to address its needs, which include the replacement of old equipment and dilapidated facilities, and tasks such as foreign missions, border patrols, securing hospitals during worker strikes, the documentation of immigrants and support for the police.

Funding challenges make it difficult "to do everything that we are required to do," Masondo said. But he acknowledged there is a "dire need" for the South African government to direct resources to social and economic programs in a country with high unemployment and a widening gulf between rich and poor.

He said the troops heading to Congo are "preparing sufficiently," despite shortfalls in the military.

The U.N. said a contingent of about 100 Tanzanian troops arrived in eastern Congo on May 11, a first step in assembling a new brigade. The rest of the troops will arrive in stages, but no clear deadline has been given so far. Malawi has also pledged troops, though some military experts question whether the envisioned force of several thousand is big enough to restore security.