Bodies of South African soldiers killed in Central African Republic brought home
Allegations emerge that Central African Republic troops turned on their South African trainers
Armed fighters from the Seleka rebel alliance patrol the streets in pickup trucks to stop looting in Bangui. Photograph: Reuters
The remains of 13 South African soldiers who died fighting rebels in the Central African Republic have arrived back on home soil amid allegations that some had been killed by local government troops.
The bodies of those killed last weekend in the war-torn central African country were flown into South Africa late on Tuesday evening. All those who died were members of One Parachute Battalion from Bloemfontein in the Free State province.
The anguish of the families was compounded by a report in South Africa’s Times newspaper that claimed mutinous government troops revolting against CAR president Francois Bozize were responsible for the killings.
The newspaper said details were emerging that government soldiers carried out carefully planned ambush attacks on the South African troops, who were officially in the country to train their counterparts and protect assets.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has rejected the reports, saying “The SANDF would like to distance itself from such allegations at this stage”.
In addition to the 13 who died, 27 soldiers were injured when more than 200 South African soldiers fought approximately 3,000 heavily armed rebels who had broken a ceasefire and taken over the CAR capital of Bangui.
The allegations that CAR troops turned on their trainers has also further fuelled calls for a parliamentary inquiry into why South African soldiers were deployed in the first place. The opposition Democratic Alliance has said the “highly questionable deployment” should be investigated by a specially convened parliament subcommittee.
“The real fact is we don’t know why the SANDF were deployed in the CAR and that’s why we need a comprehensive investigation,” shadow defence minister David Maynier said. Speculation was rife, he said, that South African troops were sent to “support or prop up” the ousted Mr Bozize, who has fled to Cameroon. Mr Bozize first came to power in a coup in 2002.
The South African government has insisted its troops will remain in the country, and it is understood a build-up of military power is underway to reinforce the CAR mission with new soldiers.