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Two South African soldiers killed on DR Congo mission

Author: AFP | Published: Thursday, February 15, 2024

The South African soldiers are part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission (Photo: Aubin Mukoni/AFP)

Two South African soldiers have been killed in a mortar strike in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the army said Thursday, their force’s first casualties since it deployed to help quell an insurgency.

Announcing the deaths, the South African military said three more soldiers were wounded in the incident Wednesday near the eastern city of Goma.

“A mortar bomb landed inside one of the South African contingent military bases inflicting casualties and injuries to the SANDF soldiers,” the South African National Defence Force said.

“As a result of this indirect fire, the SANDF suffered two fatalities and three members sustained injuries,” the statement added.

The injured were taken to the nearest hospital in Goma, capital of the troubled North Kivu province.

The deaths mark the first fatalities for South Africa since it began to deploy 2,900 soldiers in eastern DR Congo in mid-December.

The troops were sent as part of a southern African regional force, also including soldiers from Malawi and Tanzania, tasked with helping DRC government forces fight M23 rebels.

The mostly-Tutsi M23 group has seized vast swathes of North Kivu since emerging from dormancy in late 2021. The region has been wracked by violence in the decades since regional wars in the 1990s.

Clashes have intensified in recent days around the strategic town of Sake, which lies about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Goma.

– ‘Sitting ducks’ –

The DRC, the UN and Western countries accuse Rwanda of supporting the rebels in a bid to control the region’s vast mineral resources, an allegation Kigali denies.

The UN Security Council on Monday voiced concern at “escalating violence” in eastern DRC and condemned the rebel offensive launched near Goma on February 7.

According to a UN document seen by AFP, the Rwandan army is using sophisticated weapons such as surface-to-air missiles to support M23.

M23 says it is defending a threatened minority and wants talks with the government, which refuses to negotiate with what it calls “terrorists”.

A flurry of diplomatic efforts to halt the fighting has so far failed to find a lasting solution.

The South African military said details of Wednesday’s mortar hit were “sketchy” and further investigation would be conducted to determine what happened.

South Africa’s decision to contribute troops to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission has proved controversial at home, with the leading opposition party calling it “reckless”.

Earlier this week, the Democratic Alliance (DA) alleged that the South African troops lack adequate air support and would be “sitting ducks” fighting rebels on unfamiliar terrain.

“It is heart-breaking,” the DA’s shadow defence minister told AFP on Thursday, commenting on the casualties.

“That war and conflict has got little or no relevance to our national security … The government, the commander in chief and the minister who have authorised this must carry the consequences.”

Defence Minister Thandi Modise sent her condolences to the families of the deceased soldiers, also wishing the injured a speedy recovery.

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