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Southern African leaders mull Congo force

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Southern African leaders gathered for an extraordinary summit in Mozambique Friday to discuss the deployment of peacekeepers to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The meeting of heads of state is taking place under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The group was said to be at an advanced stage of military planning, but there was still disagreement about whether to send a stand-alone SADC force or join the United Nations mission.

The mission would provide a buffer between the government and rebel force who last year briefly captured the town of Goma.

"The situation in the DRC continues to be a difficult one, with the M23 advancing" said SADC secretary general Tomaz Salomao, declining to offer details which were of a "sensitive, military" nature.

Regional groupings have been trying since July to set up a neutral international force to break up the numerous militia groups that prey on civilians in eastern DR Congo.

But African leaders want assurances any peacekeepers they send will have the mandate to engage the rebels rather than simply enforcing peace as under the current UN mandate diplomatic sources told AFP.

During the sack of Goma, UN peacekeepers were unable to step in and stop the M23's advance.

DR Congo's President Joseph Kabila has confirmed his attendance, as has Tanzanian leader Jakaya Kikwete, who also chairs the SADC troika on politics, defence and security

Kabila's government and M23 rebels have been holding peace talks in the Ugandan capital Kampala.

The negotiations in Kampala are the latest in several bids to end a long-running conflict that has forced hundreds of thousands of people in eastern DR Congo from their homes.

The 15-nation SADC, at its last summit in December, said it would activate its regional standby force in order to deploy it in the framework of the neutral force.

Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa have committed troops to the force, which is expected to be 4,000 strong.

Mozambique holds the rotating presidency of the SADC bloc.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130208/southern-african-leaders-mull-congo-force