ZIMBABWE will not individually deploy troops in northern Mozambique to fend off Islamic insurgents who have killed more than 2 500 people and displaced 700 000 others in the country, the government says.
Speaking to the Daily News yesterday as Harare has come under growing pressure to dispatch soldiers to Cabo Delgado to help manage the situation and to safeguard its economic interests, presidential spokesperson George Charamba said Zimbabwe would only get involved as part of a Sadc force.
This comes as the violent armed rebellion in Mozambique is getting worse, amid growing concerns that Zimbabwe and other regional countries are at risk on a number of fronts, unless Sadc deploys troops there to quell the insurgency.
“It (any intervention) must be a Sadc initiative. Why should Zimbabwe deploy alone? It needs all Sadc countries like what (Botswana) President Mokgweetsi Masisi told you (the media).
“He is the chairman of the organ on politics, defence and security cooperation. It’s a regional question and it will require a regional response. There is no time for single heroism. We work as a region,” Charamba said
Masisi was in Harare on Wednesday where he met Mnangagwa to discuss, among other things, the deteriorating situation in Cabo Delgado.
The two leaders said Sadc would soon come up with a robust response to the calamity facing Mozambicans.
Charamba also rubbished reports that Zimbabwe had already secretly deployed its soldiers to Cabo Delgado, where the insurgents are causing untold civilian suffering.
“We dismiss those rumours coming from non-military persons who have no clue in terms of operations,” he said.
After meeting Mnangagwa — the immediate past chairperson of the Sadc organ on politics, defence and security — Masisi said the regional bloc would soon respond firmly to the Mozambican crisis.
Mozambique, which assisted Zimbabwe during the liberation struggle, has since 2017 faced insurgents in its northern province of Cabo Delgado.
This has resulted in violent raids on government buildings and villages by militias with suspected links to the Islamic State.
Last week, the Islamists launched a surprise assault on Palma town, attacking shops, banks and a military barrack.
Hundreds of people fled the fighting, running into forests, mangroves or nearby villages. About 180 foreign and local gas workers took refuge in Amarula Palma Hotel.
Zimbabwe’s military intervened in the previous Renamo insurgency in the country in which the United Nations estimates 16 million civilians died.
Zimbabwe imports its fuel through the Mozambican port of Beira, which is delivered into the country via a pipeline that was built in the 1980s.
Besides fuel, Zimbabwe also receives some of its key imports through Mozambican ports.
Political analysts who spoke to the Daily News recently said Sadc needed to assist Mozambique urgently, to stop the violent insurgency in Cabo Delgado — to bring relief to tens of thousands of people there who are in dire need of help, while preventing the mayhem from spilling over into neighbouring countries.
The number of incidents in Cabo Delgado has escalated dramatically lately, with helpless communities being caught between government responses and the attacks by the insurgents, some of which the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, told the Daily News that it was strategic for Zimbabwe to take an active role in the crisis — on account of the country’s socio-economic and security interests which were increasingly becoming threatened by the worsening events in Mozambique.
“The Mozambique situation is of concern to Zimbabwe both directly and indirectly on a number of fronts.
“Indirectly because like we have seen in Nigeria, the moment you mention Islamists, investors inevitably shun the region. They will not want to invest in Sadc when there are insurgents wreaking havoc.
“The crisis affects Zimbabwe directly because the Beira oil pipeline is the country’s economic life-blood and hence it is prudent for Harare to play a critical role in ensuring that peace prevails in Cabo Delgado — as long as the military intervention is in the context of a regional effort,” Masunungure said.
“There is also the issue of refugees flocking into Zimbabwe, as was the case during the Renamo disturbances — although this time around there is some distance from the conflict region.
“The issue of refugees will be of serious concern to the country because it will likely affect Zimbabwe the most,” he added.
But world politics expert, Stephen Chan, called for a cautious approach that should involve both military force and diplomacy if Sadc was entertaining any hopes of establishing lasting peace in Mozambique and the region.
“These insurgencies, as we have seen in northern Nigeria and Somalia, are complex and cannot be crushed by military force alone.
“Any military effort must be combined with a highly sympathetic mediation effort. The two must work hand in hand, and the mediators need to have expert Islamic credentials.
“If only force is used, particularly heavy-handed force, and Zimbabwean troops are involved, then yes, Zimbabwe may expect the same sort of retaliation that Kenya saw — attacks on civilian shopping malls by suicide bombers and gunmen and, indeed, as in Nairobi, gunwomen,” Chan told the Daily News.
Recently, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for urgent measures to protect civilians who are at the mercy of marauding armed groups in Mozambique.
The call came in the face of reports of dozens of people being beheaded by the Islamist militants in recent months — a development that has sent thousands of people fleeing by land and by sea, while others allegedly remain trapped in conflict areas, with many forced to hide in the bush for days.
Through her spokesperson Rupert Colville, the UN Commissioner said people trapped in areas of conflict, as well as many of those displaced across the province, barely had any means of surviving and that some areas had been without humanitarian aid for more than six months.
“Those who remain have been left deprived of basic necessities and are at risk of being killed, sexually assaulted, abused, kidnapped, or forcibly recruited by armed groups. And, those that flee may die in the process.
“There also have been reports of human rights violations committed by Mozambican security forces in recent years, including extrajudicial killings, ill-treatment, use of force violations, arbitrary detentions, including of journalists, and unlawful restrictions on the freedom of movement,” Colville said. – Daily News