Zuma on CAR: Decision not SA's

2013-04-02 22:40
Jacob Zuma (Picture: AFP)

Jacob Zuma (Picture: AFP)

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Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday that South Africa will take its cue from the Central African region and the African Union on what to do next in Central African Republic (CAR).

Zuma, under fire at home over what role the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has been playing in CAR, after 13 soldiers were killed and 27 wounded during clashes with rebels there, will on Wednesday attend a summit of Central African leaders which will consider responses to the rebel takeover in CAR.

"We are continuing to consult the Central African region and the African Union on this matter... We will be guided by the continent as to what to do next," Zuma said earlier while speaking at  the memorial service of the SA Paratroopers killed in the CAR capital Bangui.

He heads to Chad to join the extraordinary meeting of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) after being invited by Chadian President Idriss Deby, chair of the 10-nation ECCAS.

ECCAS groups Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe and Chad.

Amid the controversy surrounding the South African military presence in CAR, Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj told Reuters there was nothing unusual about the South African role in Central African Republic or Zuma's participation in the summit.

"We want to participate and benefit from the knowledge of the colleagues in the region, and share our ideas," he said.

Maharaj said South Africa's involvement in CAR stemmed from calls by the African Union in the mid-2000s for African states to participate actively in moves to maintain stability and contribute to capacity-building in the central African state, which has a history of coups and revolts.

He said the 2007 bilateral defence accord, whose details have not been made public, derived directly from this.

Zuma would be accompanied at the summit by his ministers for foreign affairs, state security and defence.

CAR's delegation will be led by Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye.

The African Union has suspended its membership and imposed sanctions on Seleka leaders, including CAR’s new leader, Michel Djotodia.


Earlier on Tuesday, Zuma defended the CAR deployment, saying the 13 soldiers killed by rebels there had died fighting for the government's foreign policy, not his party's business interests.

The South African force had been involved in a nine-hour firefight with thousands of rebels who poured into Central African Republic's (CAR) capital Bangui last month and seized control of the country, which has rich deposits of gold, diamonds and uranium.
Zuma has faced enormous pressure over the 13 South African deaths - the worst military setback since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The Democratic Alliance is calling for a parliamentary investigation and media reports are speculating that the troops were defending investments made by the African National Congress.

The deaths have touched a nerve with a public not used to seeing flag-draped coffins being carried off planes, with many asking why Zuma sent troops to a country 3 500 km away and outside South Africa's normal sphere of influence.

Zuma said the 200 troops sent in December were "heroes" sent to uphold South Africa's foreign policy and were protecting a deployment of military trainers sent in 2007 under a military cooperation agreement.

"Let me emphasise that we reject any insinuation that these soldiers were sent to the CAR for any reason other than in pursuit of the national interest and the interests of the African continent," he said at a memorial for the soldiers.

"We will not be side-tracked by those who are on a perpetual campaign against this democratic government," said Zuma.

The Mail & Guardian last week said the ANC's investment arm, Chancellor House, was involved in a company called Inala Centrafrique set up in 2006 to buy diamonds from Central African Republic's small-scale artisanal miners.

"The plan had two other elements, which, if implemented, would give Inala and its ANC-linked shareholders complete dominance of CAR's diamond market," the paper said.

The ANC dismissed the report as "blatant lies".

"The ANC as an organisation does not have business interests in CAR," it said in a statement.

Ran out of ammo

SANDF soldiers said they were traumatised after learning that many of the rebels in the battle in Bangui were child soldiers, the Sunday Times and City Press reported at the weekend.

"The rebels stormed our soldiers in groups, not at all like trained soldiers, and many of them were only children," City Press quoted one soldier as saying.

Troops ran out of ammunition for rifles and had to fire rocket-propelled grenades to repel the attacks, City Press said.

Defence officials have not commented on specifics of the reports but said troops were adequately supplied.

Meanwhile, the SA National Defence Union said that South Africa's troops were being withdrawn from CAR.

"What we know now is that only 18 soldiers still remain in CAR; at least 200 of them have been withdrawn and dropped off [at] the border," spokesperson Pikkie Greeff said.

The CAR airport in Bangui was under the control of the French army, which was safeguarding South Africa's equipment until it could be transported back to the country.

Military spokesperson Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said he could not comment on reports that the soldiers had been moved to either Congo or Uganda, according to AP.

"I will only confirm that we still have troops and equipment in the Central African Republic," he said.

He refused to say how many soldiers remained.
Read more on:    sandf  |  jacob zuma  |  central african republic  |  car uprisings  |  military  |  central africa

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