South Africa will press for urgent military action by regional body, the Southern African Development Community, to quell an Islamist insurgency in Mozambique threatening to destabilise neighbouring countries, International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor said.
SADC leaders have discussed how to tackle the insurgency by Islamic State-linked militants, with an option for force. This is the first time South Africa has explicitly thrown its weight behind military intervention.
Since 2008, SADC has provision for a standby brigade, part of a regional defence pact allowing military intervention to prevent conflict spreading.
“We support the use of the defence pact. It’s never been utilised in the region, but we believe this is the time, this is a threat to the region,” Pandor told Reuters.
Mozambique is hesitant about foreign involvement, but last month President Filipe Nyusi said his country needed help from outside, as long as they did not replace Mozambican forces.
Mozambique struggles to contain violence in its northern-most province Cabo Delgado. Some 52 000 people were displaced in the latest bout in Palma district from March.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said more than 1.2 million people need urgent health assistance in Cabo Delgado, after recurrent attacks started in 2017.
Analysts suggest the insurgency has its roots in poverty and unemployment afflicting Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest countries, making recruitment easier in communities not benefiting from new mining or petroleum projects.
Militants stepped up violence in the past year with more sophisticated attacks, delaying construction of a new US$20 billion liquefied natural gas project run by French oil major, Total which declared force majeure on the new build.
“It is the SADC standby force we want to come into play,” Pandor said, adding South Africa would want all member states to contribute troops to avoid a similar situation to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where only a few countries, including South Africa, sent soldiers.
Speaking ahead of the summit provisionally set for May 25-28 in Botswana, Pandor said SADC must lead the process and will determine the nature and conditions of support from external sources, including the European Union or Mozambique’s former colonial ruler Portugal.“We have our colleagues, for example, Nigeria, saying: ‘don’t allow this to get out of hand because once it does it is uncontrollable and difficult to reverse’. So, we believe it is urgent we have action,” Pandor said. – Reuters