More troops for CAR?

2013-04-03 00:00

WHILE the SANDF yesterday mourned 13 fallen comrades, all eyes will be on Chad today, where any possible further military intervention by South Africa in the Central African Republic will be discussed.

The discussions take place as one huge military transport plane after another departed from South Africa yesterday, packed with equipment.

Although the SANDF denied that it was involved in a troop build-up, it is understood that Gripen fighter planes took off bound northwards yesterday, possibly for Entebbe in Uganda.

Three chartered aircraft, two Iluyshin 76s and one giant Antonov 124 cargo plane, have made several flights since the weekend to Entebbe and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Rooivalk and Oryx helicopters are also believed to have been deployed. Some of the flights took off from Bloemfontein, while others were from the Waterkloof base near Pretoria. The Iluyshin 76 cargo plane can airlift about 34 tons at a time, while the Antonov’s capacity is 85 tons.

Informed sources believe the aircraft and weaponry are being strategically positioned in anticipation of instructions that may arise from today’s discussions.

President Jacob Zuma is attending an extraordinary meeting of the Economic Community of Central African States under the chairmanship of President Idris Deby of Chad.

At a memorial service yesterday for the 13 SANDF soldiers killed in CAR, Zuma said: “We will be led by the continent about the road ahead.”

According to reports from the DRC and Uganda, SA military equipment and troops are being positioned at Gemena in DRC, about 180 km from CAR capital Bangui.

There they are joining SANDF soldiers that were withdrawn from CAR after the fatal battle.

Only a handful have been left in CAR to protect this country’s interests and equipment, while others have returned to South Africa. Informed sources said the reason for the forward deployment could be to avoid being caught unprepared again by a force that is better organised than had been suspected.

Military expert Helmoed-Römer Heitman said one can deduce that it is a forward deployment in anticipation of a request by the African Union or regional bodies.

In his speech at the memorial service, Zuma said the problem in South Africa is that everyone wants to govern, instead of giving the government a chance.

He said it must be understood that military deployments and decisions cannot be publicly discussed except in broad terms.

“No country discusses its military strategy in public in the manner in which South Africa is expected to do in this country.

“Those who are engaging in this game should be careful not to endanger both the national interest and the security of the Republic while pursuing party political goals,” he said.

He defended the SANDF troops’ presence in the CAR and said they were only there to protect military instructors deployed there after an earlier request by the AU and under a bilateral agreement between SA and CAR.

In January, more troops were sent to protect the instructors and equipment amid the escalating rebel insurgency.

Zuma said the soldiers who died were heroes who gave their lives in pursuit of peace.

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