Namibia will withdraw troops once UN peacekeepers in place

Namibia said on Thursday it would withdraw its military intervention force from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as soon as UN peacekeepers have been deployed.

“We would withdraw from DRC now if UN peacekeepers were in place. We shall withdraw tomorrow, if they come,” said Veiccoh Nghiwete, Permanent Secretary at the Namibian foreign ministry.

In an interview with IRIN, Nghiwete, the third highest ranking foreign ministry official, commented at length on what has become one of the most controversial domestic issues in the build-up to the country’s third parliamentary and presidential elections next week.

He said that Namibia with its neighbours, Zimbabwe and Angola, had sent troops to support DRC President Laurent-Desire Kabila under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

“At the time we had in mind the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. We did not want another genocide, and neither did we want the capital Kinshasa overtaken by rebels, and I think we succeeded on both counts,” he said. “You do not try to overthrow a government in a country by invading it which was what happened in Congo.”

Nghiwete declined to discuss the number of Namibian troops currently deployed in DRC, or give further figures such as the number of casualties. Unofficially, however, the force is estimated at some 2,000 men, well below Zimbabwe’s contingent of 10,000. According to the National Society for Human Rights, the deployment is costing the country the equivalent of US $150,000 a day.

In an argument also cited by the Zimbabwe government, Nghiwete insisted that the Lusaka ceasefire would not have come about were it not for the SADC intervention forces.

“The United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity participated in the ceasefire negotiations. The Lusaka accord stipulates various stages starting with political dialogue and UN deployment. But the UN is dragging its heels, and funding for the Joint Military Commission is also lacking,” he said.

He also said governments in the region were puzzled as to why the UN was taking so long to get involved in DRC.

“In East Timor, by the time the crisis was on our television screens for a week or two, the UN managed to deploy 5,000 men. Why are they so slow in Africa, or is it my imagination?” he asked.

“We expect the UN to take Africa and the DRC issue more seriously - after all it has had enough lessons in Africa,” Nghiwete said.