SA stands firm on CAR troops

2013-01-13 10:00

‘There is no way we will pull out,’ says senior official

South African troops deployed in the Central African Republic (CAR) will not come home despite a peace deal between warring factions.

Late on Friday, CAR president François Bozizé and the leader of the Seleka rebel alliance, Michel Am-Nondokro Djotodia, agreed to a government of national unity.

The rebels have insisted foreign troops must leave the country.

Sources with knowledge of the Libreville meeting, where the agreement was reached, say there was unhappiness from the rebels and the west African states who were mediating on the matter of South Africa’s military presence.

“The Gabonese foreign minister made it clear the warring groups should listen to them, the mediators, and not outsiders.

“They were referring to South Africa,” a Nairobi-based civil society leader told City Press.

It has also been alleged the rebel forces referred to the South African troops as “mercenaries” because they don’t work with the regional force that serves in the CAR.

President Jacob Zuma announced on Sunday that he had sent 200 troops to the CAR to beef up Bozizé’s forces.

Last night, Zuma was still mulling over his response to the withdrawal demand, but a senior government official close to the process told City Press there is “no way that we’ll pull out”.

“There is no way that is going to happen. The CAR government has no capacity to protect themselves, so we won’t be going anywhere.”

Defence spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said he couldn’t comment.

Under a recently renewed military agreement, South Africa will supply military training to local troops in the CAR until 2018.

The soldiers deployed this week were also meant to make sure that South African arms, ammunition and military vehicles don’t fall into the hands of the rebels.

The agreement also allows South African soldiers to be part of Bozizé’s personal protection unit.

Seleka, a coalition of five separate rebel groups, launched its insurgence in early December, accusing Bozizé of reneging on a 2007 peace deal, which was supposed to provide jobs and money to insurgents who laid down their weapons.

Rebel spokesperson Eric Massi told Reuters the deal was good for the country’s conflict-weary citizens, but warned fighting could erupt again if the government failed to meet a list of rebel demands included in the accord.

The deployment of troops stunned many, since South Africa has very little direct interest in the CAR, and has no regional mandate to intervene in the affairs of the country.

But South African government officials say Zuma is worried about the effect that instability in the

CAR will have on its neighbour, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“Of course we are hoping for economic benefits (from) this relationship in the future but, for now, the risk is how it could impact on the DRC. All our work there could be undone,” a government official said.

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