AFRICAN PEACE MISSION
Standoff at Warsaw airport after officials try to confiscate weapons from Ramaphosa’s Presidential Protection Unit
More than 10 hours after arriving in Warsaw, about 120 special forces, high-ranking security personnel as well as journalists were unable to disembark and head to Rzeszów.
South Africa’s diplomatic woes continue to grow as Polish officials refuse entry of Presidential Protection Unit weapons into their country. Polish officials instead wanted to confiscate their equipment despite the president’s security claiming to have all the required documents.
The head of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Presidential Protection Unit, General Wally Rhoode, has accused Polish officials of being “racist”, and blatantly “sabotaging” South Africa by not allowing them to offload their equipment and weapons.
The containers storing weapons and security equipment had to be offloaded for safety reasons.
Speaking to the media late on Thursday at the Warsaw airport, Rhoode explained why the president’s security had been left stranded for at least 10 hours in a chartered plane at the Warsaw airport’s cargo section. He further went on to explain that they had been organising permits for the past two weeks, adding that this situation was unprecedented.
He mentioned that one of his female colleagues had been strip-searched, which Rhoode believes is unusual when someone has a diplomatic passport.
“They say we do not have permits – we have permits, the only difference is that they say we cannot have copies of permits. The embassy here printed permits because they said it’s not necessary to have permits here. Now, all of a sudden, we need to have originals. They are delaying us and they are putting the life of our president in jeopardy because we could have been in Kyiv this afternoon already,” he said.
“I do not know why they want to confiscate our weapons,” he added.
More than 10 hours after arriving in Warsaw, around 120 special forces, high-ranking security personnel as well as journalists were unable to disembark and head to Rzeszów. The security personnel were expected to provide more support to the security team which travelled to Geneva, Switzerland, with the president.
The final plan etched by the presidency was that media and security would leave from the Air Force Base Waterkloof to Poland on Wednesday and then take another chartered plane to Rzeszów.
Cracks started to show when the aircraft was circling around at some point of the journey while the pilot awaited permission to fly over Italy.
Once the South African Airways plane landed in the cargo section of Warsaw airport, it was halted and an announcement was made by the pilot that, instead of making the dropoff, they would continue to Rzeszów, Poland. The only snag, according to the pilot, was they were still waiting for a permit to travel to be able to start the 40-minute journey.
The pilot then announced that the crew had decided to stay with passengers to complete this mission. He, along with his co-pilot, decided to go to rest because of the time limits they are given to work, as stipulated by law.
However, Rhoode later revealed the main reason for the delays.
This mission has been riddled with a number of mishaps for South Africa since its inception.
The presidency initially invited a number of media houses that were told that they would be travelling with his security personnel at the beginning of June, but this date was later postponed to 11th of the same month. However, the presidency only managed to organise the required air travel on the 14th.
Daily Maverick understands that there were issues around getting an aircraft that has the required authorisation to travel into Russia. Most companies are not insured to fly in war-stricken areas.
Air travel in Ukraine has been suspended because of the ongoing conflict.
President Ramaphosa landed in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday afternoon and was heading to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky on the first leg of an African Peace Mission to try to end Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Ramaphosa visited the Polish capital, Warsaw, to pay a courtesy call on President Andrzej Duda, who leads a country that shares borders with Ukraine and Russia, and is deeply affected by the regional conflict.
The United States and Poland are longtime allies and have had strong bilateral ties. The Polish government has been a supporter of continued American military and economic presence in Europe.
Pretoria has recently been perceived to have a good relationship with Russia, which has compromised its position with America.
The President then left Warsaw leaving his security personnel behind.
Ramaphosa, Zambian president Hakainde Hichilema and Senegalese President Macky Sall are directly participating in the mission.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, Comoran president Azali Assoumani and Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou-Nguesso have all pulled out.
Sassou-Nguesso tried to persuade the other participants to postpone the peace mission on the grounds that the launch of Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russia had made a visit to Kyiv too dangerous. DM