Govt knew there would be casualties - expert

2013-03-25 22:39
Seleka coalition rebels patrol in Bangui, in Central Adrican Republic. (Picture: Sia Kambou, AFP)

Seleka coalition rebels patrol in Bangui, in Central Adrican Republic. (Picture: Sia Kambou, AFP)

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Johannesburg - An expert said on Monday that he thinks the government realised from the beginning that there would casualties in Central African Republic, as calls mounted for the remaining South African soldiers there to be brought home.

Thirteen South African soldiers were killed and 27 wounded, while soldier was missing, after clashes with rebels near the CAR capital Bangui.

Johan Potgieter, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, told AP that he thinks South Africa realised right from the beginning that there would be casualties in the Central African nation.

"If you want to be in peacekeeping, and you don't want body bags, you should get out of there."

Sapa reported that calls have mounted for the government to bring the remaining troops home, despite President Jacob Zuma saying earlier that thegovernment had not decided to withdraw the force there.

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."

AP reported earlier that the Cameroonian government confirmed that CAR president President Francois Bozize sought "'temporary" refuge on its territory.

It said that he would be leaving for another unspecified country.

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".

Crooked dictator

"We believe all soldiers should be removed from the area immediately to prevent further loss of life," said Freedom Front Plus spokesperson Pieter Groenewald.

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.

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".

According to AP, defence analyst Helmoed Heitman said on Radio 702 that the force in the Central African Republic was lightly equipped and had no aerial support.

The opposition Democratic Alliance called for a full inquiry into what it said was a "highly questionable deployment" of 200 troops into a de facto civil war without the support of helicopter gunships or military transport aircraft, reported AFP.

More scathing was the attack from within the military's own ranks, questioning Zuma's support for now-ousted Bozize, a veteran military strongman who served as a general in the 1977-79 "Empire" of dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa.

Bozize seized power in a 2003 coup before winning an election two years later, and signing a deal in 2007 with then-president Thabo Mbeki to have 20-odd South African trainers overhaul the CAR military in Bangui.

Military union SA National Defence Union (Sandu), said Zuma should never have gone to Bozize's aid by beefing up the deployment in January, especially after he was accused of ignoring a peace deal signed with the rebels.

"The Bozize regime is notorious for its corruption, nepotism and maladministration," AFP quoted Sandu as saying.

"His dishonouring of that agreement should have been the green light for the withdrawal of our troops from that country.

"South Africa had no further business being in a country governed by a crooked dictator."

Heavy casualties

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said political heads needed to tell the country what was going on in the CAR.

"Our commander in chief [Zuma] and the minister of defence should give this matter the attention it deserves, failing which the country must call for a judicial commission of inquiry to look into this so-called bilateral agreement," he said in a statement.

"Since the hasty deployment of troops in December 2012, government has given various reasons for this deployment."

These included providing protection for President Bozize; protecting assets; and training and helping build capacity.

Holomisa said the UDM was proud of the South African soldiers and sent condolences to the families who lost loved ones.

"This incident reminds of the fragility of life, of peace and how important sound decision-making is when dealing with international relations."

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 which fought armed forces.

General Solly Shoke, the SANDF's military chief, said 3 000 rebels armed with mortars and heavy machine guns took part in the fighting, AP reported

The bulk of the fighting occurred on Saturday, though rebels contacted South African forces early Sunday to arrange and "uneasy truce," the military chief said.

According to Zuma, the SA forces "inflicted heavy casualties among the attacking bandits".

- SAPA

Read more on:    da  |  ff plus  |  udm  |  cosatu  |  sasfu  |  sandf  |  solly shoke  |  francois bozize  |  jacob zuma  |  bantu holomisa  |  zwelinzima vavi  |  pieter groenewald  |  central african republic  |  military  |  central africa
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