Hundreds of South African soldiers deployed to the volatile east of the Democratic Republic of Congo are likely to be involved in violent clashes with thousands of battle-hardened rebels.
The UN has given the M23 rebels 48 hours to demobilise and surrender their weapons. The deadline expires today and if the rebels fail to meet it the UN intervention force of which the South Africans are a part will move in to forcibly disarm them.
About 900 South African soldiers from the SANDF’s 6 Infantry Battalion are deployed in and around the town of Goma as part of the UN’s intervention brigade.
Tens of thousands of civilians are said to be fleeing from war-ravaged Goma in anticipation of the blood-letting likely to come.
The South African troops are trained to deploy into battle zones from helicopters.
The brigade was formed to engage and attack the M23 rebels terrorising the region, allegedly with the backing of the Rwandan government and military.
The brigade, which also has troops from Malawi and Tanzania, will from today attempt to disarm the M23 rebels, an action they say they will oppose.
There is growing concern that there will be a repeat of the killing of South African soldiers as in the Central African Republic earlier this year. Dozens of SANDF soldiers were wounded and 15 killed in clashes between South African paratroops and Seleka rebels in March.
SANDF spokesman Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga said: “We have competent troops with the equipment necessary to carry out their tasks.”
But Mabanga admitted that not all the troops were in place.
“As to when this will happen it is difficult to say … It is a highly sensitive operation, not only involving us.”
Institute for Security Studies senior researcher Andre Roux said: “The [South Africans] underwent three months of combat-readiness training and two months of mission-readiness training, and are now training intensively for combat operations.
“Deployed with specialist weapons capabilities, such as heavy machine guns and armoured vehicles, the troops are a very capable fighting force that can defeat the rebels.” – timeslive.co.za