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Nigeria moves closer to amnesty offer for Islamists
by Staff Writers
Abuja (AFP) April 17, 2013

S.Africa announces troops for troubled DR Congo
Cape Town (AFP) April 17, 2013 - President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday extended the deployment of 1,345 troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo where South Africa will form part of a first-ever offensive United Nations peacekeeping brigade.

The fresh deployment comes after Zuma faced public anger over the dispatch of troops to the Central African Republic, where rebel clashes killed 13 soldiers last month.

The deaths were South Africa's heaviest military loss since apartheid and mired in claims of dodgy deals with ousted president Francois Bozize. Zuma later pulled all troops out of the country.

Zuma's office said parliament had been informed about the new operation.

It will extend the tour of 1,267 soldiers with the UN's peacekeeping force in DR Congo while the rest will help boost capacity and train the local army.

The soldiers already served as part of the UN's peacekeeping operation for a year, which ended in March, and "will continue in this mission" until the end of April 2014, Zuma's office said.

South African troops are set to form part of a new intervention brigade to battle rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Defence force spokesman Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said South Africa would contribute one battalion to the new force, which will also comprise troops from Malawi and Tanzania.

"The government of South Africa is going to contribute troops to form part of the intervention force," he told AFP.

But neither he nor Zuma specified whether these troops would be drawn from the current mission in DR Congo or if they would be part of a new deployment.

"As soon as United Nations establishments are ready to assemble the forces... the three contributing countries are ready to provide the forces," he added.

The UN security council last month decided that the brigade will be included within the current UN mission's troop ceiling of 19,815.

The new force will be tasked with carrying out targeted offensive operations to neutralise and disarm rebel groups, a first for a peacekeeping mission.

South Africa has had troops in the DR Congo, a country gripped by conflict for more than two decades, since 1998.

"We are very proud of them and their contribution to African renewal and development," said Zuma.

The South African leader also announced the extension of a mission of 850 soldiers in Darfur, Sudan.

Nigeria took a further step towards granting amnesty to Boko Haram Islamists on Wednesday, with the president setting up a panel to study how the offer should be made.

Earlier this month, President Goodluck Jonathan instructed his security advisors to look at whether an amnesty could help curb the Boko Haram insurgency which has left thousands dead since 2009.

Jonathan received the report from his security advisors late Tuesday, a statement said.

His office then announced the creation of a fresh panel tasked with "developing a framework for the granting of amnesty."

The new 26-person body, composed mostly of people from Nigeria's mainly Muslim north where Boko Haram is based, has also been instructed to set up a "framework through which disarmament could take place within a 60-day time frame".

Shehu Sani, a prominent rights activist based in the north, said he was rejecting his own nomination onto the committee because authorities did not consult him before his name was included in the list.

"Nobody consulted me on if I am interested in serving on the committee and nobody told be anything about the nature of the assignment", Sani, who presides the Civil Rights Congress, told AFP.

"I suggested the need to consult the leadership of the (Boko Haram) group discreetly through some names I mentioned in order to get their input," he continued. "That advice was ignored. This new government approach will not get us anywhere and I don't want to soil my reputation."

It is unclear whether an amnesty offer would help reduce the violence, or whether members of the radical Islamist group are open to the proposal.

In an audio recording sent to AFP last week, Boko Haram's purported leader Abubakar Shekau, designated a global terrorist by the United States, rejected the idea.

But the group is believed to be made up of many different factions. It has said it is fighting to create an Islamic state in the north, but its demands have repeatedly shifted.

Analysts say some members are likely hardcore Islamists who would resist any concession to Nigeria's secular government.

Other members are thought to be dejected northern youths who have been radicalised out of frustration with massive government corruption and extreme poverty.

Jonathan has come under intense pressure over the issue, with politicians from the violence-torn north as well as Nigeria's highest Muslim spiritual figure, the sultan of Sokoto, calling for amnesty.

The Boko Haram insurgency is estimated to have left more than 3,000 people dead since 2009, including killing by the security services.


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