Families of Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers, who went missing while on duty in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last year, are making a desperate plea to the government and United Nations on the whereabouts of their relatives.
The two soldiers who went missing, Staff Sergeant Boniface Nowa and Chancy Mwakalenga, were in the Force Intervention Brigade which in November last year exchanged fire with a rebel group called Allied Defence Force (ADF).
During the intervention, six Malawian soldiers, who were part of the 850-member MDF squad, were killed and others injured.
The two missing soldiers’ relatives have told Malawi News that for the past year, they have been kept in the dark and no one from MDF or government has updated them on what will be the next step.
The family’s disappointment comes barely two weeks after President Peter Mutharika promoted two soldiers, George Salimu and Gift Nkhoma who came back to the camp after the attack.
Staff Sergeant Boniface Nowa ‘s father, Osman Nowa, has told Malawi News that all he wants is to be told whether his son is dead or alive so the family can move on.
“My son left for peacekeeping mission in DRC together with other soldiers on 17th August 2018. We were in touch till 13th November 2018 when the nation was notified that MDF soldiers were attacked by rebels, which led to the death of six soldiers,” he said.
“We were called by MDF after three days that my son and three others were missing but efforts were being made to trace them. Since then, MDF and UN have not communicated to us anything. It is my family that calls if we want to know anything. They don’t tell us on any development.” he added.
He explained that they were called for samples of DNA.
“In February, we provided blood and hair samples but have not been notified of the results till today,” he said.
He further said that on 11th July, they provided saliva again but they do not know the outcome up to now.
“Imagine the other soldiers are back from DRC but my son is nowhere to be seen. I don’t know how my grandchildren are feeling seeing that their friends’ parents are back,” he said.
Harry Mwakalenga, brother to another missing soldier, Chancy Mwakalenga, says he feels frustrated with how the matter is being handled.
“I don’t know why the MDF is failing to communicate to our family on the whereabouts of our brother. It’s now almost close to a year since our brother disappeared. You mean we should be waiting for all these months without knowing what happened to him? Why can’t they tell us just to mourn our brother and then we should move on?” Mwakalenga said.
Presidential Press secretary Mgeme Kalilani has said President Peter Mutharika, who is MDF’s Commander-in-Chief, is equally concerned about the status of the two soldiers and he feels for their families.
Kalilani said according to the operation brief the President received, the military status of the two soldiers remains “Missing-In-Action” (MIA).
“The status has not been revised because processes and procedures required under both international military law, UN protocols and MDF terms and conditions for military servicemen are still in motion. The United Nations, under which the soldiers were serving in DRC, are in charge of this process and they are working hand-in-hand with MDF,” Kalilani said.
According to Kalilani, looking at the totality of these circumstances, the directive from the Commander-in-Chief is that these processes should be expedited.
He said since the status of the soldiers is still MIA, the MDF should continue paying the soldiers their salaries plus their UN duty allowances into their bank accounts.
He said Mutharika has been assured that this is being done.
He said the president further instructed the MDF to ensure that the immediate family members of the missing soldiers are periodically updated on progress and developments surrounding the status of their beloved-ones.
He said the Commander-in- Chief hopes that certainty of the two brave soldiers’ status, will be established soon.
MDF spokesperson Paul Chiphwanya said there is a gap in the country’s laws on the presumption of death of those Missing in Action, saying they have requested the Attorney General for guidance on way forward.
He said the Directorate of Human Resource Management and Development as well as the Welfare Department have been engaging the families of the soldiers on several occasions on the issue.
“As already stated in the previous Press statements, MDF will inform the general public in case of any new developments on the MIA, as MDF, we pray that our colleagues be found alive, safe and sound,” Chiphwanya said.
The country was plunged into grief in November last year when news broke that six Malawian soldiers had died in a battle against militias in DRC and that some of their colleagues were injured while others could not be traced.
As a member of UN and African Union (AU), Malawi regularly commits troops (MDF soldiers and police officers) towards peace keeping missions abroad that are undertaken by the two agencies.