This week’s announcement that South Africa would be withdrawing its military component from the hybrid AU/UN mission in Sudan has been confirmed with the withdrawal date set down for April 15 and not April 1 as stated by the Presidency. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) confirmed a note verbale had been received from the South African permanent mission to the world body informing it of a government decision to withdraw its contingent from Darfur.
“Discussions on the matter have taken place and the mutually agreed date for the cease of operations is April 15. 2016,” a UN spokesman said.
The decision to withdraw from Sudan came only a day after a Cabinet international relations and co-operation briefing had indicated the contributions made by the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to peace missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan. This came three days after defence force Commander-in-Chief, President Jacob Zuma, used the Armed Forces Day event in Port Elizabeth to draw attention to the efforts of South Africa in the two missions.
“South Africa is passionate about peacekeeping and that is why its armed forces are ready to take part in peace support operations. Our soldiers have continued to perform exceptionally well in peace missions and have done us proud,” Zuma said.
The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said the Sudan withdrawal announcement was “a surprise” seeing as how 800-odd South African soldiers had been part of UNAMID since its establishment in 2008 and its predecessor, AMIS since 2004.
Under the title “Darfur fatigue” ISS consultant Peter Fabricius said the announcement of the withdrawal on South Africa’s budget day could possibly be viewed as a cost-cutting measure. “Or Zuma intends redeploying the over-stretched SANDF elsewhere”.
The South African contribution to UNAMID and its predecessor goes under the code name Operation Cordite and it started in July 2004 with the deployment of staff officers and observers to Darfur to support the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS). When AMIS was terminated on December 31, 2007 to become the first hybrid AU/UN mission on the following day South Africa was asked by the UN to increase its contingent to a standard UN infantry battalion.
Deputy Defence Minister at that time, Thabang Makwetla, said “challenges regarding the infrastructure in the mission area made it impossible for the SANDF to comply.” In November 2008 the SANDF component of UNAMID was increased to around the 800 mark, a figure that has remained constant since then.
There currently appears to be no reason for South Africa withdrawing from the DRC mission – MONUSCO – where Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi recently took over as force commander questions are being asked about the east coast anti-piracy deployment Operation Copper.
This deployment is currently authorised by Zuma to continue until March 31.
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