CAPE TOWN (AFP) – President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday extended the deployment of 1,345 troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo where South Africa will form part of a first-ever offensive United Nations peacekeeping brigade.
The fresh deployment comes after Zuma faced public anger over the dispatch of troops to the Central African Republic, where rebel clashes killed 13 soldiers last month.
The deaths were South Africa’s heaviest military loss since apartheid and mired in claims of dodgy deals with ousted president Francois Bozize. Zuma later pulled all troops out of the country.
Zuma’s office said parliament had been informed about the new operation.
The soldiers already served as part of the UN’s peacekeeping operation for a year, which ended in March, and “will continue in this mission” until the end of April 2014, Zuma’s office said.
South African troops are set to form part of a new intervention brigade to battle rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Defence force spokesman Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said South Africa would contribute one battalion to the new force, which will also comprise troops from Malawi and Tanzania.
“The government of South Africa is going to contribute troops to form part of the intervention force,” he told AFP.
But neither he nor Zuma specified whether these troops would be drawn from the current mission in DR Congo or if they would be part of a new deployment.
“As soon as United Nations establishments are ready to assemble the forces… the three contributing countries are ready to provide the forces,” he added.
The UN security council last month decided that the brigade will be included within the current UN mission’s troop ceiling of 19,815.
The new force will be tasked with carrying out targeted offensive operations to neutralise and disarm rebel groups, a first for a peacekeeping mission.
South Africa has had troops in the DR Congo, a country gripped by conflict for more than two decades, since 1998.
“We are very proud of them and their contribution to African renewal and development,” said Zuma.
The South African leader also announced the extension of a mission of 850 soldiers in Darfur, Sudan.