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SA Will Not Overstretch Its Forces By Sending Troops To Somalia
Cape Town, Feb 14, 2007- With its forces stretched in other parts of the continent, South Africa is not considering sending peacekeeping troops to troubled Somalia, Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota reiterated today.
Speaking at a briefing of government's programme of action within the International Relations, Peace and Security cluster, the Defense Minister said, however, that South Africa "is in full and unwavering support for all efforts to rehabilitate Somalia".
To that end, South Africa would be willing to offer training and other support to Somalis when the country attempts to establish a democratic system of governance.
It is "improbable that South Africa will provide a physical presence on the ground in Somalia", Mr. Lekota said, adding that it would not be in the interests of South Africa to over commit its forces.
Already, the country's forces were "overstretched", with ongoing commitments in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Darfur region of Sudan and elsewhere, such as the Comoros, he told reporters.
The Defense Minister added that if South Africa overcommitted itself, it would not be able to sustain conflict resolution successes elsewhere, saying that any withdrawal from other theatres of conflict can reverse important gains in peacebuilding.
"It is better that we concentrate our strength on a project that we are already involved with and make sure that it is a success, rather than to risk spreading ourselves all over the place and ultimately not being successful anywhere".
Nevertheless, he said, the Department of Defense had recommended that it "should and will be able to" support the training of Somalis "who can then go and be on the ground and deal with the situation in that country".
What encourages this approach, said the Defense Minister, is an assessment of the situation that shows that the traditional leaders in Somalia, as opposed to the Islamic courts, have some consensus about the need to normalize the situation in the country and rehabilitate its institutions of government.
This consensus about rehabilitating the country was despite, he said, "some level of dissatisfaction" on the part of the tribal leadership structures in Somalia at the activities of the Islamic courts, which prior to Ethiopian intervention was largely dominating the bulk of the country.
Thus "the atmosphere there does allow for us to be able to provide assistance of the nature we are talking about", he said.
Mr. Lekota added that peacekeeping troops would best be drawn from countries that have not been involved and are not involved in the situation at all "but have a measure of understanding of what the dynamics are", such as the Ugandans, which have pledged to send in troops and which is "more familiar with the situation there".
It would be better, he said, to introduce into the situation forces from countries "which do not come with historical baggage", referring to the possibility of greater United States military involvement in Somalia.
"Given the history of Somalia, it would really be better if the US was not one of the players there," he said, adding that "we are very doubtful that this kind of role can really be helpful", as any player in the conflict needed "to be sensitive to the grief and emotions in Somalia".
Compiled by the Government Communication and Information System