Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Congolese soldiers detained at Tanzanian port

The Tanzanian army has detained more than 20 soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo after they crossed the border into Tanzania.

According to the Tanzanian military, the soldiers, travelling in a boat, landed at the port of Kigoma on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, which borders both countries. They claimed that they were pursuing rebels who had fled into Tanzania to seek medical treatment.

The soldiers were heavily armed with machine guns and rocket launchers, provoking anger among the Tanzanian soldiers who detained them. One of the Tanzanian officers said that “we might as well regard this as an invasion”. The Congolese soldiers have been detained and may be charged with illegally entering the country.

The incident is unlikely to spiral into a diplomatic row but it has refocused attention on the porous and often unstable border region around Tanzania, DRC and Burundi. The confused fighting in eastern DRC between militia groups, criminals and loosely organised government forces has caused thousands of refugees to flee into neighbouring states, and has also pushed armed groups across the borders.

Last year Tanzanian MPs called on President Jakaya Kikwete to set up a special police zone around Kigoma after a spike in violent crime there, attributed to refugees and criminals moving in from neighbouring states. Recently a gang of robbers, believed to be from the DRC, hijacked a bus in Kigoma and rampaged through the area, killing and wounding several people before disappearing.

Tanzania may be frustrated with the influx of refugees and rebels from the DRC but has little ability to do anything about it. While the situation in the eastern DRC remains so chaotic, and the Kinshasa government so weak, the only remedy is to try and tighten controls along the border. This is so porous and poorly marked, however, that it will remain a Herculean task for the Tanzanian government.

Sources: BBC, The Citizen

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