The Southern African Development Community (SADC) peacekeeping brigade could be operational by 30 June, the South African ministry of defence has confirmed.
Ministry spokesman Zam Mkhwanazi told IRIN on Thursday the brigade, which would form part of the planned African Union (AU) continental standby force, could be ready for peacekeeping missions by then, but could not provide further details on where the brigade was likely to be deployed.
Jakkie Cilliers, executive director of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), said the announcement that the SADC brigade could soon be ready was "quite surprising", as the final seal of approval for the peacekeeping force would be given by SADC heads of state at their summit in August.
The brigade will be the first of an eventual five regional forces to be constituted under the AU's plan for a continental standby force.
Of the other regions, Cilliers noted that "ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] is the most advanced at the moment. IGAD's [Intergovernmental Authority on Development, in the Horn] decision-making level is more advanced, but they are weak in capacity."
A new ISS report noted that "the AU, ECOWAS, IGAD and SADC have made significant progress towards establishing a viable regional peace support capability. However, the gap between aspiration and implementation remains extremely wide".
Although protocols and framework documents were in place, and institutional structures were being built, "the operational capacity remains limited in the face of rising demands and expectations".
The biggest impediment to an African peacekeeping force was funding. "Peace operations capacity building is not cheap, and none of the envisaged capabilities are really affordable for Africa," the report commented.
Currently the AU has 2,300 troops in the troubled Darfur region of Sudan, a territory the size of France. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has offered logistical support to the tiny force.
The AU recently told donors it needed US $466 million to more than double the size of the mission by September and equip it with attack helicopters, armoured personnel carriers and fuel.
NATO has offered air support, training and intelligence.
For the full report: www.iss.co.za