SA will pull out of CAR – minister

2013-02-24 10:00

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Mapisa-Nqakula says all 400 soldiers may not be necessary.

South Africa should start thinking about pulling out of the Central African Republic (CAR), Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, said this week.

“As we speak now, there is no threat to our people in Central African Republic.

“My view is that it may not be necessary for us to deploy all 400 (troops) because right now there is an agreement signed between President Bozize and there’s a government of national unity there. If anything, in fact, we should be thinking of reducing the numbers once there is stability.”

President Jacob Zuma came under fire from opposition parties when he authorised 400 troops to go to the CAR to protect the government there from an attack by rebel groups in December.

South Africa has no discernible interests in the CAR, but a military agreement exists between the two countries pledging South Africa’s military support to the CAR. Soon after the initial attacks, a government of national unity was formed between President Francoise Bozize and rebel leaders.

South Africa only sent half of the authorised troops, but a mistake at the department of defence left Zuma red-faced when he reported to Parliament the exercise will cost ­ R65?million, but later had to raise the amount to R1?billion.

“There was speculation about the R65?million but it was clarified that it was for money to be spent until the end of this financial year. If we go beyond and deploy the full amount, then the cost will go up to R1?billion,” Mapisa-Nqakula told City Press.

She shrugged off the mistake.

“In matters of defence it is not about money. It’s about how you ensure there is peace and stability where you are.”

She said that the CAR intervention was an opportunity for soldiers to practise their combat skills.

“These are soldiers and to have them in this kind of situation and there is no war situation around here – you have to remember soldiers are trained for war. If you have a war situation, provide them with the opportunity to be combat ready to put their training into practice.”

She insisted the troops are only in the CAR to protect South African assets, which include weaponry, but admits that during the first five years of South Africa’s military agreement with the CAR defence force troops also protected Bozize.

“There was a time when we had a unit that was around the palace looking after the president, but, some years ago, that unit was withdrawn because we had now built capacity for them to have their own VVIP protection people. For now we have no team that is around the palace nor is there a team around the president.”

Why didn’t South Africa pull out once a government of national unity was reached?

“The representative of the United Nations based in the CAR, Miss (Margaret) Vogt, has pleaded with us and with neighbouring countries that, for now, the presence of other groupings have prevented the rebels getting to Bangui – and then she made a plea, maybe for now we must not pull out,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.

In her speech in the state of the nation debate in Parliament this week, Mapisa-Nqakula said South Africa will not be sending more troops to the DRC to join the new force authorised by the African Union and the UN.

Mapisa-Nqakula also lashed out at the police who constantly ask the defence force to help with crowd control and peace and order.

“It should be our last line of defence – to call in the defence force. We were very clear about the kind of defence force we want. We want to do away with the military state. Defence force members are trained to shoot and kill. I don’t want to hear voices calling for the defence force to step in,” she said

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