SA troops to be withdrawn from Burundi

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pretoria - South African troops will be formally withdrawn from a peacekeeping mission in Burundi next Saturday.

The South African National Defence Force Specialist Contingent (SANDFSPECC) was formally deployed as part of the African Union Special Task Force in Burundi.

"They will be formally withdrawing its troops and lowering its flag with effect from 8 August," said International Relations and Cooperation Director General Ayanda Ntsaluba on Thursday.

The withdrawal of troops will be completed by the end of September.

"The withdrawal signifies a proud moment in South Africa's and Africa's history as we move towards resolution of this long-standing and violent conflict."

The primary function of this military force was to provide VIP protection to the returning leaders participating in the Burundi Transitional Government.

The signing of a number of ceasefire agreements between the belligerents involved provided a new momentum for the implementation of the peace process in Burundi.

Explaining South Africa's mandate in Burundi, Mr Ntsaluba said it had been to act as a "bodyguard" force for about 150 Hutu politicians returning from exile to participate in Burundi's government of national unity.

The force has been in place since the establishment of a broad-based transition government, in line with the Arusha Peace Accord for Burundi. That agreement, reached in August 2000, was signed by 19 Burundian parties and mediated by former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Under the auspices of the African Union, South Africa sent 700 troops there in 2001 to help the peace process between the government and rebel movements, following a 15-year civil war that has claimed an estimated 300 000 lives.

South Africa's facilitation efforts at its reintegration centre at the base involved the disarmament, demobilisation and integration of rebel forces which rocked the country into a civil war.

Minister for Performance Management and Evaluation in the Presidency Collins Chabane, earlier in the day said Government wished to thank all those who were involved in facilitating the peace talks in Burundi, including President Jacob Zuma, when he was the Deputy President of the Republic, and former Minister of Defence Charles Nqakula.

Meanwhile, Dr Ntsaluba's employment contract as Director General in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation has been extended for a further three years.