SA troops in Sudan feared the worst

2015-06-17 08:38
SANDF troops. (Picture: AFP)

SANDF troops. (Picture: AFP)

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Pretoria - More than 800 terrified South African soldiers in Sudan feared the worst when their camp was surrounded by Sudanese troops.

"In order to save lives, we would have to have surrendered if they stormed us. One battalion of soldiers without proper weapons could not fight against an entire country's army," a South African soldier told Netwerk24.

Netwerk24 reported on Tuesday that South African peacekeepers in North Darfur were effectively held "hostage" by members of the Sudanese army while the drama around Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's possible arrest during the African Union summit in Johannesburg escalated. The High Court in Pretoria ordered that Al-Bashir be detained.

It is believed that Al-Bashir was possibly allowed to leave South Africa amid fears of violence against the South African peacekeepers.

"They [the South African troops] would have been overwhelmed. If South Africa had arrested Al-Bashir, they would have been prisoners of war," a friend of a soldier told Netwerk24.

Meanwhile, soldiers, family members and friends of the soldiers serving in Sudan have contradicted the military's "categorical denial" that there was a hostage situation, recounting stories of their loved ones' fears while in the war-torn country.

The army said the "increased military traffic" in Darfur was part of the Sudanese government's preparations for the Ramadan religious celebrations.

Head of joint operations, Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi, said the situation had "normalised" and the mobilisation of Sudanese soldiers near the South African base in Khartoum was not aimed at the base.

But a soldier said: "We were so scared - we were surrounded by soldiers. We handed out extra ammunition to everyone in case it was needed."

The deployment apparently began shortly before the weekend, when Al-Bashir left for the AU summit in South Africa.

A friend of a soldier at the base said that they were surrounded by about 500 heavily-armed Sudanese soldiers in Hilux bakkies at about 10:00 on Monday. Al-Bashir's jet took off from Waterkloof air force base at about midday on Monday.

While the court bid to have him arrested continued in Pretoria, the South African soldiers were surrounded. They were placed at Level 2 readiness, which means they had to be battle ready and fully armed.

"They were terrified and overwhelmed. They were basically kept as hostages for the afternoon.

"They could see an attack was imminent. The [Sudanese] soldiers were about 500 metres from their camp. According to their intelligence something would have happened if Al-Bashir was arrested," the source said.

One caller to Power FM said a relative who is serving in Sudan said her camp was "surrounded" by Sudanese soldiers. Another soldier confirmed that they were placed at Level 2 readiness when vehicles approached the base.

"I am so grateful South Africa did not arrest Al-Bashir. Our commander said after Al-Bashir arrived safely in the country, the soldiers withdrew," a message sent by a soldier in Darfur to his colleagues in South Africa read.

According to Netwerk24, approximately 800 South African soldiers are serving in Darfur as part of Unamid, a combined UN and AU peacekeeping force. The current group of soldiers are from 8 Infantry Battalion in Upington.

Meanwhile, the UN has denied that the South African soldiers were in a hostage situation, saying they were never in danger. And a Sudanese army official told Bloomberg that they are not in conflict with the South Africans.

Read more on:    au  |  unamid  |  sandf  |  omar al-bashir  |  sudan

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