(The Citizen - Dar es Salaam)
A group of 20 heavily armed soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) travelling by boat, and docked at Kigoma Port on the shores of Lake Tanganyika totally unannounced on Saturday the 5th November, much to the amazement of Tanzania People's Defence Forces (TPDF) officers and regional administration officials. The soldiers said their mission was to pursue rebels whom they claimed were undergoing medical treatment in Kigoma, according to information made available to them. Incredibly, neither TPDF nor any other security organisation intercepted the group throughout the journey and it was only shortly after it had docked next to a Police Force vessel upon arrival, that the soldiers were detained.
The 24 KJ, Commander, Lt Col Emanuel Mcheri, told reporters yesterday that the DRC were detained because they had entered Tanzania without following proper procedures. He further explained that it was forbidden for armed soldiers of one country to enter another unannounced, as the action could cause a war between them. Lt Col Mcheri said the DRC soldiers were under the command of Lt Col Mohamed Mustafa from 42 Infantry Section which has a base in Eastern DRC. "They told us during interrogation that they were pursuing rebels whom they were told were in Kigoma for medical treatment," he said, adding "But they have crossed the border without following procedures. We might as well regard this as an invasion... they travelled all the way from the border to Kigoma Port without notifying us. We are detaining them until we get further information and directives from above." He said the soldiers were armed with various weapons, including 17 sub machine guns (SMGs), light machine guns (LMGs), pistols, rocket propelled grenades, (RPGs), a hand grenade and three surface-to- air missiles used for downing planes.
Lt Col Mcheri further explained: "They also had a large number of rounds of ammunition. When we inspected them and their boat, we impounded 32 SMG magazines with a total of 960 bullets. They also had 360 bullets for the LMGs...
They had a box full of ammunition." He attributed failure to detect soldiers to the extensive Tanzania borders, but stressed that TPDF was very keen on securing them against intrusion by foreign forces. "Kigoma's borders with neighbouring countries are very extensive and therefore securing them against intrusion threat poses a major challenge; but I want to assure you that we are very keen, alert and ready to respond to any threats to our country at any time," he said.
Of the 20 detained soldiers, four are officers and 11 infantry soldiers. In the group too is a civilian reported to be a boat mechanic. Unconfirmed reports said that the Regional Peace and Security Committee met at the Regional Commissioner's office immediately after the intrusion by DRC soldiers was reported. However, no hints on what was discussed had emerged. The soldiers are reportedly being held at Bangwe prison and there are unconfirmed reports that they might be charged for entering the country illegally.
On the 3rd November this year, a group of nine people, believed to be rebels fighting the DRC government in the eastern parts of the country, arrived in Kigoma through Mtanga village.
They surrendered at a TPDF camp at the village and were detained. Most of them were injured and were rushed to Kigoma Regional Hospital, Maweni, where they have been admitted for treatment. Reports from the hospital said that one of them had died while receiving treatment.