Namibian forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are to pull back from frontline positions by 15 March and could be home before the end of the year, military spokesman Vincent Mwange told IRIN on Friday.
Under the Harare disengagement plan agreed on 22 January, all warring parties in the DRC are to fall back 15 km from existing frontlines, with UN verification. "Our commanders have been instructed to comply," Mwange said. Following the Harare timetable, the next step would be for all foreign forces to submit plans for their withdrawal from the Congo to the UN mission in the DRC (MONUC) by 15 April, the spokesman said.
Once UN peacekeepers are in place, full withdrawal from the DRC should be completed before the end of the year. "If the UN deploys in the DRC I see no reason for Namibia and other forces to be there," Mwange commented. The estimated 2,000 Namibian troops in DRC could be "home before Christmas" and would be received as "conquering heroes", he added.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwean forces would not interefere with the disengagement of Rwandan troops from the southern Congolese town of Pweto which began on Wednesday, a military spokesman in Harare told IRIN. "Once the Rwandans are out, I think it's in the interest of all that Pweto is kept as a neutral place," said Colonel Mbonisi Gatsheni. "Definitely we are not carrying out any offensive movements."
But Gatsheni said a Rwandan and Ugandan disengagement would not be matched by a simultaneous Zimbabwean move. "At the moment we maintain a position that because Rwanda and Uganda are named as aggresors, they should move out first. Zimbabwean troops and other allied forces are in the Congo at the invitation of the government." He however noted that agreement by Rwanda and Uganda to abide by the Harare plan meant that, given the current "positive" climate, the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Congo "is a forseeable event".
Mwange pointed out that Rwanda's operation to pull back 2,500 to 3,000 troops to Pepa, 200 km southwest of Pweto, and Uganda's withdraw of two battalions completely from the DRC, was "their own agenda" and "entirely their decision".
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