Malawi Defence Force (MDF) says it has presumed dead its two soldiers who went missing after a fierce battle during a United Nations peace-keeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2018.
In an interview on Sunday, MDF spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Paul Chiphwanya said Staff Sergeant Chancy Mwakalenga and Sergeant Boniface Nowa have officially been acknowledged to be dead after MDF mounted search and rescue operations since the battle in November 2018 that also killed six soldiers and injured several others.
He said: “You will recall that it is one year and eight months since that fierce battle in the DRC. Since then, we were conducting searches and rescue operations for our two missing soldiers or their bodies, but we haven’t managed to locate them.”
Chiphwanya said the commanding officer in the DRC operations consequently compiled a report on the matter which the Defence Council discussed and later declared that Mwakalenga and Nowa should be presumed dead.
He said: “Since that declaration, the matter is being handled by our [MDF] Human Resource Management and Development section, which has shared the sad news with family members of the two soldiers. The same section is handling compensation and other related issues.”
But Chiphwanya stressed that the presumption of death has a rebuttal clause that would be activated if and when there would be the eventual re-appearance of either of the two or both of them.
Commenting on the development in a separate interview, UN resident coordinator Maria Jose Torres said: “We would like to express our most sincere condolences to the families, friends and to the MDF for the peacekeepers that lost their lives in the DRC.
“The fallen Malawian peacekeepers are heroes who dedicated their lives to the cause of peace and saving lives. The United Nations greatly appreciates the contribution of Malawian peacekeepers in its missions.”
In November 2018, bodies of Lieutenant Aubrey Kachemwe, Sergeant Steven Kambalame, Corporal Jonathan Kapichira, Private Chauncy Chitete, Private Benjamin Nsongela and Private Simplex Taferakaso were flown home for burial after the battle.
The search and rescue operations for Mwakalenga and Nowa started soon after the battle that extracted the highest death toll on such missions.
The deceased and the injured were part of an 850-strong MDF contingent serving as a UN peace-keeping mission under the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the DRC.
Under the FIB, the Malawi troops are operating alongside other peacekeepers from Tanzania and South Africa in a mission to neutralise armed groups in DRC’s north Kivu through joint combat missions from time to time.
During the November 2018 fierce battle, one of the six slain Malawian soldiers, Chitete, demonstrated outstanding bravery by putting himself in harm’s way when he emerged from cover and rescued an injured Tanzanian soldier trapped by enemy troops.
For this action, Chitete was awarded posthumously a top UN peacekeeping bravery award. His widow, Rachel Chitete Mwenechanya, received the Captain Mbaya Diagne Medal at the United Nations headquarters in New York, United States of America, during the Peacekeepers’ Day in 2019.