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The South African Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Saturday protested that the Mozambican authorities did not consult with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) before inviting Rwanda to deploy forces in the fight against islamist terrorists in the northern province of Cabo Delgado – but her Mozambican counterpart, Jaime Neto, retorted that she was “mistaken”.
Mapisa-Nqakula told the public radio station, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), that it was “unfortunate” that Rwanda had deployed its troops into Mozambique before SADC forces arrived, because it was expected that Rwanda would have gone in under a SADC mandate.
She admitted that SADC did not have any control over the timing of the Rwandan deployment as this had been agreed between Rwanda and Mozambique.
The South African minister’s claim that Mozambique did not consult with SADC over the Rwandan involvement was contradicted by President Filipe Nyusi himself, who claimed on Friday, during a visit to Cabo Delgado, that SADC leaders had authorised him to request help from Rwanda.
Mozambican Defence Minister Jaime Neto told reporters on Sunday that Mapisa-Nqakula was “mistaken”, and suggested she was unaware of decisions that had been taken at SADC heads of state level.
Speaking in Beira, Neto said relations between Mozambique and SADC are excellent, with constant consultation about how to deal with terrorism in Cabo Delgado. “But we think there may be problems in communication resulting in differing interpretations and some doubts”, he said.
He claimed that Rwanda made formal contact with SADC about military intervention during the SADC summit held in Maputo in late June.
“At the time, it was decided that, apart from the SADC Standby Force, Mozambique was free to contact a brother African county with whom it could work to deal with questions of terrorism”, said Neto. “This is the context in which Rwanda has begun to bring its contingent to Mozambique”.
The Rwandan forces began to arrive last Friday at the northern airport of Nacala. “At the level of the SADC military, there is combined operational planning, which can be more flexible”, he added. “That’s what’s happening with Rwanda”.
Neto added that there are dates for the SADC deployment, and these are being complied with. According to the letter sent by SADC Executive Secretary Stergomena Tax to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the SADC deployment will begin on 15 July.
“All is fine at SADC level”, claimed Neto. “Yesterday a plane from Botswana landed in Pemba (the Cabo Delgado provincial capital) bringing three majors and a colonel to create conditions for the installation of the SADC forces, so that, on 15 July, they will be present on our soil”.
“Everything is coordinated within SADC”, he said. “We shall communicate continually to avoid speculation about the arrival of foreign forces to support Mozambique in the fight against terrorism”.
Nyusi has made clear that the SADC and Rwandan forces will be under Mozambican control. The foreign contingents “are going to work with us, but they don’t give the orders”, he said on Friday. “They are going to organize themselves and work with our commanders. The fight against rebel groups will be organized by Mozambican commanders. Our commanders will divide the theatre into areas, so that they don’t all go to the same place”.
It is not yet clear who will lead the SADC Standby Force. In her SABC interview, Mapisa-Nqakula said the SADC military experts who planned the Mozambique intervention had originally proposed that a South African major-general should command the SADC standby brigade, with a Botswana colonel as deputy. However, these operational decisions had now changed, the minister said, without giving any details.