The Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) was trying to determine the authenticity of a video circulating online that appeared to show its soldiers burning the bodies of dead insurgents on a pile of trash.
South African National Defense Force (SANDF) spokesperson Brigadier General Andries Mokoena Mahapa said the “despicable act” possibly took place in Mozambique in November last year.
At least one of the soldiers in the video was wearing a South African flag on his uniform. However, it was not immediately clear where the others came from.
“The SANDF does not condone in any way the acts committed in the video and those who are found guilty of such acts will be brought to book,” Mahapa said in a statement on Tuesday.
He explained, however, the incident was being investigated by SAMIM rather than the SANDF because it oversaw the military mission in Mozambique.
South Africans form the bulk of the SAMIM forces fighting insurgents in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province.
“The incident is believed, but not yet confirmed, to have occurred in the aftermath of a successful attack on an insurgent stronghold, which left 30 enemy combatants dead,” John Stupart, Director of African Defense Review, told DW.
He called it “completely unacceptable” and added, “to treat bodies with respect is enshrined in international laws on war. It’s also explicitly mentioned in SANDF’s own Standard Operating Procedures for Mozambique.”
The SANDF’s statement refers to “activities against the Law of Armed Conflict.”
The South African soldier, believed to be a special forces member, was not shown directly taking part in burning the bodies. Instead, he holds a rifle in one hand and appears to be recording a video with his cell phone.
Stupart said he could still be in trouble and face charges of war crimes in a military court back home.
SAMIM said it was looking into the “circumstance around the matter.” It vowed to keep the public informed of its findings.
Conflict in Cabo Delgado persists
Several other Southern African countries have also contributed troops to the regional force fighting alongside Mozambican and Rwandan soldiers against the insurgents.
The European Union is partly funding the SAMIM to the tune of €15 million (roughly $15 million).
Since the conflict in resource-rich Cabo Delgado started in 2017, more than 4,000 people have been killed and “nearly 1 million” have been forced to flee, according to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
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Human Rights Watch (HRW) said fighters from an armed group known locally as al-Shabab or as al-Sunna wa Jama’a (ASWJ) “have attacked villages, killed civilians, kidnapped women and children, and trained boys to fight government forces.”
“State security forces also committed serious human rights violations during counterterrorism operations, including intimidation, ill-treatment of displaced people, and the use of unlawful force against civilians,” HRW said.
Stupart said the video’s spread could make ASWJ “fight even harder.”
South African parties call for swift action
South Africa’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said it wanted the country’s Minister of Defense, Thandi Modise, and chief of the SANDF, General Rudzani Maphwanya, to form a Board of Inquiry to investigate the matter.
The DA’s spokesperson on defense matters, Kobus Marais, also wants Modise to brief Parliament’s defense committee on the issue.
“What is shown on the video is unacceptable and must be rejected in the strongest possible way,” Marais said.
Another opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) demanded South Africa’s minister of defense take swift action against the soldier in the video.
It compared the actions of the soldier to those carried out by a notorious paramilitary unit known as Koevoet that operated during the apartheid era.
Source : DW