Calls to bring back SA troops

By Drum Digital
25 March 2013

Calls mounted on Monday for the remaining South African soldiers in the Central African Republic to be brought back home.

Congress of SA Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said in Durban that South African troops should be deployed as part of an African Union (AU) mandate.

"We see no reason for them to stay there. They were sent there to protect a president who has fled."

The Freedom Front Plus and the SA National Defence Union (Sandu) agreed that the troops should return home.

Earlier in the day, President Jacob Zuma said 13 South African soldiers had been killed and 27 wounded in clashes with rebels. One was still missing.

Vavi, who was attending the Second Brics Trade Union Forum in Durban, said: "When there is a deployment [of South African troops] it must be a deployment by the AU."

He said the troops had not been deployed in terms of an AU mandate, but under a bilateral agreement.

He warned that any deployment of South African troops outside an AU mandate put South Africa at risk of being perceived as "a bully".

"We believe all soldiers should be removed from the area immediately to prevent further loss of life," said FFPlus spokesman Pieter Groenewald in a statement.

He said the government needed to take full responsibility for the deaths.

"It appears as if President Jacob Zuma had, without careful consideration, decided to deploy defence force members in the CAR without proper logistical and air support for such operations."

Groenewald said without this kind of support, South African troops could not take on peace operations.

"It is therefore not surprising that the tragedy took place and it could be repeated if the government does not drastically intervene."

On Monday, Zuma said the South African government had not taken decided to withdraw the army from the CAR.

"There has been no reason for us to leave. What we've been looking at is how do we [reinforce] our forces? How do we ensure that there are no further casualties?

"There is no reason for us to issue a command for withdrawal," he said.

The SA National Defence Union (Sandu) said the government needed to make a decision to bring the troops home.

South African troops in the CAR had been given "a mandate that is impossible to execute," said Sandu national secretary Pikkie Greeff.

In January, Zuma authorised the deployment of up to 400 South African soldiers to the CAR as part of a military co-operation agreement between the two countries.

Only 200 of the soldiers had been sent at the time of the attack, and it was this group fought armed forces, numbering over 1000, in a high tempo battle which lasted nine hours, until the rebels raised a white flag and asked for a ceasefire, at the weekend.

"South African soldiers inflicted heavy casualties among the attacking bandits," said Zuma.

Earlier on Monday, the SA Security Forces Union (Sasfu) said South Africa had a responsibility to deploy its military to help keep peace on the continent.

Nevertheless, Sasfu president Bheki Mvovo said if, in hindsight, it was shown that the troops had not been given adequate support, "tough action should be taken".

-SAPA

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