South Africa sends 400 troops to troubled state

Tue, Jan 8, 2013, 00:00

South African troops have been sent to boost a regional force in the Central African Republic that is trying to foster peace talks between the government and a rebel force that has overrun key towns.

President Jacob Zuma’s government confirmed yesterday it had authorised the deployment of 400 military personnel to CAR. The force’smission will be to help the government train its defence force and protect South African property and personnel there.

It “will also assist CAR with the disarmament, demobilisation and re-integration processes” that follow a successful peace deal, the South African presidency said. Their mandate is to March 2018, it added.

At least half of the South African force arrived in Bangui, the CAR capital, on Sunday, where they are said to be helping local government forces secure the city in case peace talks with the rebel coalition Seleka break down.

Roadblock removal

After the South African troops arrived, the co-ordinator of the Citizens Coalition Opposed to the Armed Rebels, Levy Yakite, appealed to supporters on radio to remove roadblocks set up to prevent the rebels infiltrating the city.

Since the uprising began three weeks ago, Seleka has taken control of a number of towns and swept to within 75km of the capital, forcing troops to withdraw.

The rebel group only agreed to halt hostilities when neighbouring Chad sent 400 troops across the border and warned them not to proceed past Damara, the last strategic town before Bangui.

Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon have committed 120 troops each to bolster Fomac, the multinational peacekeeping force. Talks to find a solution to the biggest threat to CAR president François Bozizé’s nine-year rule are expected to begin in Gabon’s capital Libreville today.

Military coup

Mr Bozizé, who took control in a coup in 2003, offered to form a government of national unity with Seleka, and promised not to stand for a third term. But his proposal was dismissed by the rebels.

The former CAR general had called on the US and France, the country’s former colonial power, to help his government. Seleka is an alliance of three rebel groups. It accuses the government of failing to honour a 2007 peace deal where fighters who laid down arms were to be paid and powersharing was central. The rebels are insisting on the departure of Mr Bozizé.