Rooivalk holds key to DRC conflict - UN

04 September 2013 - 02:56 By STEPHAN HOFSTATTER
A South African Air Force Rooivalk helicopter. File photo.
A South African Air Force Rooivalk helicopter. File photo.
Image: Daniel Born

The UN wants the red tape delaying the deployment of South Africa's Rooivalk attack helicopters, for the intervention brigade fighting the M23 rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, slashed.

UN peacekeeping force head Martin Kobler told The Times on the sidelines of a press conference in Goma, DRC, that he was frustrated that not all troops and military hardware requested by the UN had arrived.

Asked if this included delays in the arrival of the Rooivalk, he said: "I am unhappy with the long procurement process. I want to have the brigade fully operational with all its equipment, and I want it now."

The brigade consists of 3000 troops from Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi. But the Malawians have yet to arrive.

Last week, the brigade played a decisive role in helping the Congolese army drive the M23 rebels from the Three Towers hill, a strategic height 13km from Goma and within shelling distance of the city. Four people were killed and 20 injured in the shelling.

The brigade used artillery, sniper, mortar and rocket fire as well as sorties by Russian Hind attack helicopters to pound the hill, driving the rebels back to their Kibumba stronghold, about 23km from Goma, on Friday.

The intense battle left a Tanzanian officer dead and three South Africans wounded. Accurate casualty figures on the side of the M23 rebels, and of the Congolese forces are not available.

The Hinds are only equipped with cannon, prompting South African troops to express their concerns over the delays in deploying the more sophisticated Rooivalk.

The UN had requested at least two Rooivalk helicopters several months ago but they are only scheduled to arrive in Goma next month. SA Air Force sources in the DRC said new hangars were under construction to accommodate them.

Last week, SANDF head of joint operations, Lieutenant-General Derrick Mgwebi, said the UN still had to sign outstanding documents before the Rooivalks could be delivered. Kobler conceded that UN processes were slow but was adamant red tape could be cut on both sides.

  • The Congolese army has spent the past two days consolidating its forces. Long columns of troops could be seen heading towards the front line, armed with weapons and ammunition, including heavy machine guns and mortars.

Yesterday, Congolese army sources saidM23 rebels had abandoned a hill 3km from Kibumba without a fight. But no orders had been given to take the town yet.

"They are consolidating areas taken," Alex Essome, a UN spokesman in Goma, said.

The UN special envoy for the Great Lakes region, former Irish Prime Minister Mary Robinson, said the military victory provided a window of opportunity to find a political solution.

"When there is a military victory like this, it is a chance to advance with a political solution, and that is better for a durable peace," she said.

Robinson is expected to attend a summit in Kampala, Uganda, tomorrow where regional leaders will seek solutions to the conflict.

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