SOUTHERN African peacekeepers will have the power to enforce peace in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, rather than just keep it, Southern African Development Community (Sadc) leaders decided at hastily convened talks on the Congo crisis in Maputo at the weekend.
Sadc Secretary-General Tomaz Salamão said its 4,000-strong force would be given the power "to engage with whoever is trying to destabilise the situation in the eastern part of Congo".
The mandate is in stark contrast to that of United Nations (UN) forces in the Congo, who can shoot only if attacked. About 17,000 UN peacekeepers were criticised last year after M23 rebels overran the city of Goma.
The Sadc brigade will nominally fall under the UN, but have its own command structure. Sadc officials said planning for the deployment was "advanced", but they needed an official mandate from the UN Security Council.
South Africa, Tanzania, Malawi and Zimbabwe have committed to sending troops. Other countries, such as Zambia and Namibia, have pledged financial or logistical support. Mozambique has not yet given a firm troop commitment.
Sadc said in December it aimed to raise $100m for the mission.
Friday’s extraordinary summit was the culmination of a series of meetings to discuss what Mozambican Foreign Minister Oldemiro Baloi called "the hottest dossier facing us right now".
Mozambican President Armando Guebuza said: "We have a moral obligation to continue to engage ourselves with courage and serenity, with our experience, resources and sense of humanity, to remove the spectre of insecurity for the people of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo."
The issues of the mandate and command structure of the Sadc force has been holding up the signing of a UN regional peace deal for the Congo. Neighbouring Tanzania hailed Friday’s breakthrough as a real chance for peace.
"It is a big leap forward for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo," said Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who heads Sadc’s troika on politics, defence and security. He was in Maputo to report back on his talks with the UN and Great Lakes countries on the peacekeeping force.