SA soldiers died for peace: ANC

By Drum Digital
25 March 2013

The death of 13 South African soldiers in a battle with Central African Republic rebels has left an "indelible mark" on relations between the two countries, the ANC said on Monday.

"These soldiers were true sons of the continent who were willing to give up their lives in the interest of ensuring peace in the continent," said African National Congress spokesman Jackson Mthembu.

"Their selfless commitment has left an indelible mark in the relations between South Africa and the Central African Republic."

On Monday, President Jacob Zuma announced that thirteen South African soldiers were killed and 27 wounded in clashes with rebels. One soldier was still missing.

In January this year, 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, at the weekend, fought armed forces numbering over 1000.

Mthembu said the soldiers' deployment had been "consistent with our policy of building fraternal relations with countries of the continent."

The soldiers had been sent to rebuild the military and infrastructure of the country, as well as to keep the peace, he said.

The party was "saddened" by the deaths and injuries.

"We bow our heads as a sign of honour they deserve," said Mthembu.

Meanwhile, a number of organisations called for the remaining South African soldiers in the CAR to be brought back home.

Congress of SA Trade Unions spokesman Patrick Craven said the defence force leadership should "do everything possible to protect the safety of the remaining soldiers and withdraw them at the earliest opportunity".

On Monday, Zuma said the South African government had not taken any decision 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 enforce our forces, how do we ensure that there are no further casualties," said Zuma.

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

The SA National Defence Union (Sandu) national secretary Pikkie Greef also said government needed to make the decision to bring the troops home as the soldiers had been given "a mandate that is impossible to execute".

Democratic Alliance spokesman David Maynier said the soldiers should not have been deployed to the CAR in the first place.

"The priority must therefore now be to withdraw the SANDF from the CAR."

His party would call for an inquiry to be established into what led to troops being sent to the CAR.

The African Christian Democratic Party said the deaths in the CAR indicated that the South African military needed a larger budget.

ACDP spokesman Steve Swart said that according to United Nations reports, the SA troops had actually asked the French to help evacuate them.

"This regrettably illustrates South Africa's lack of airlift capacity to quickly extract its troops when required."

SA Security Forces Union (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".

-by Sapa

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