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African Peacemakers Want U.S. Support -- Not U.S. Troops

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Feb. 11, 1999 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen's visit here was to strengthen military ties with South Africa, but that does not mean U.S. service members will deploy to African hot spots.

On the contrary, said South African Vice President Thabi Mibeki, African nations are determined to resolve their own conflicts rather than turn to the United States or other nations for help. Cohen and Mibeki talked briefly with reporters after a Feb. 10 meeting at the presidential office building here.

"There is general agreement around the African continent that it needs to build its peacekeeping capacity, which would then be integrated into the U.N. system," Mibeki said. "All of us agree that we need support from countries like the United States to enable us to build that capacity."

U.S. support for exercise Blue Crane "is an indication of the U.S. government's own commitment to support the building of that African capacity for peacekeeping," he added. The United States is providing funds and airlift for the upcoming peacekeeping exercise, sponsored by the Southern African Development Commission. South Africa is hosting the training in April, and up to 3,000 African troops from 12 nations will take part.

The African Crisis Response Initiative, set up by the United States in 1996, also trains African peacekeepers. To date, U.S. trainers have taught troops from such nations as Senegal, Uganda, Malawi, Mali, Ghana and Ethiopia. South African Defense Minister Joe Modise said that although his country has not signed up for the program, it has international obligations as a U.N. member to assist where help is required.

Modise hosted Cohen's visit to Cape Town Feb. 10 to 12. The two defense leaders had met previously in Washington in 1997 when Vice President Gore and Mibeki established the U.S.-Africa Binational Commission. Since then, members of a joint defense committee had focused on identifying mutually beneficial areas of cooperation. Their efforts produced a memorandum of understanding on military environmental cooperation which Cohen and Modise signed after their first meeting here.

At a press conference following the signing ceremony, Modise said Cohen's three-day visit to South Africa, the first ever by a U.S. defense secretary, manifests the new standard of cooperation between the United States and South Africa. He also said U.S. support for his continents' peacekeepers is "very significant and very valuable."

"It's support in the form of an exchange of experience and training," Modise said. "Our knowledge is broadened." The United States provides funding and equipment, he noted, such as two U.S. Air Force C-130s slated to airlift African troops to and from exercise Blue Crane.

"It's at great cost that those planes, plus crew, are flying, Modise said, "and they will be here throughout this exercise. This is the type of support the United States is giving, plus more, which we value."

In Cape Town, Cohen talked with Modise and other South African defense officials. At a banquet in the city's 17th century Castle of Good Hope, Cohen hailed his South African counterpart for helping his nation eliminate roadblocks to progress.

Both nations, he said, are now working together to build a new era between the two militaries. One in which, he said, "dialogue and cooperation is not remarkable, but routine." Both defense leaders hope to forge peace across the African continent through the power of freedom, Cohen said.

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