Bangui: army ‘was warned’

2013-10-28 00:00

THE Battle of Bangui and attendant loss of lives could have been prevented if at least two senior officers had not “forgotten” to pass on warnings to commanders on the ground that a large force of rebels was approaching the town.

This is why the army is conducting an investigation to determine if the officers at the joint operation centre — a lieutenant-colonel and a major — should be charged.

Thirteen South African soldiers were killed in skirmishes with Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) between March 22 and 24. Two more SA soldiers had later died of their wounds in South Africa.

The army has in the past week not issued any statements on progress with the investigation.

From what could be established, warnings of large numbers of Seleka rebels arriving outside the town of Bangui were supplied to the army at least two days before the rebels attacked UN forces based in the town.

How and why this information was not passed on may come to light in the investigation.

Helmoed-Römer Heitman, a military commentator, said had the troops been forewarned, the operation would have had a totally different ending.

From what is known, a foreign source warned the army that many heavily armed Seleka rebels were on their way to Bangui.

This warning came after the South African intelligence service had warned in December, before reinforcements were sent to CAR, that the few South African instructors who had been stationed in CAR should be evacuated in view of a looming coup.

The army did the opposite, and sent about 200 more soldiers to CAR to “protect South African interests”.

Their primary task was to protect the instructors. If the commander had received the warning of a large rebel force approaching in time, he could have withdrawn the soldiers timeously.

Heitman said the South African soldiers could have been relocated to the airport, which was being guarded by a well-equipped French contingent, and suffered no consequences.

He said if there were grounds to charge the officers being investigated, the charges could include dereliction of duty and culpable homicide.

“Even if the source of the information was dubious, they were negligent. The army must ensure it investigates the right people,” Heitman said.

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