Troop deployment to DRC and Eritrea extended

South African peacekeeping troops are to stay on in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Eritrea for another year, a government official told IRIN.

"The extension to the troop deployment - over 1,200 in the DRC and four military observers in Eritrea - is effective from 1 April 2004 to 1 March 2005," defence ministry spokesperson Sam Makhwanazi said.

There are currently 10,722 UN peacekeeping troops in the DRC, including the South African contingent. In the past two months the Kinshasa government has been confronted by a coup attempt, a takeover of the eastern Congolese town of Bukavu and sporadic fighting in South Kivu province.

DRC has accused Rwanda of backing the rebels in Bukavu. This was followed by a warning from the UN Security Council last month to Rwanda to not provide any practical or political support to armed groups in the DRC.

However, on Wednesday a UN expert group reported to the Security Council that after investigating, it had found Rwanda supporting dissident military leaders in the area.

The South African peacekeepers will not only keep an eye on the province of South Kivu and its capital, Bukavu, but also on the Ituri district of the northeastern province of Orientale, where fighting has occurred in the past few months.

In the horn of Africa, four South African observers will work with some 4,200 UN peacekeepers, patrolling a 25-km-wide security buffer zone along the 1,000 km frontier that separates Eritrea from Ethiopia. The countries fought a two-and-a-half-year war that erupted in 1998 and claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Under an agreement signed in Algiers in December 2000, their leaders pledged to resolve tensions through an independent commission. When the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission issued its ruling in April 2002, however, Ethiopia rejected it as "illegal" and called for talks with Eritrea. Eritrea said the border must be demarcated first, before any such talks can be held. The peace process has been stalled since then.