25 March 2013
President Jacob Zuma has conveyed his deepest condolences to the families of the 13 South African soldiers who were killed after clashes with the Seleka rebel alliance in the Central African Republic (CAR) on the weekend.
The rebels reached the outskirts of CAR capital, Bangui, late on Saturday and seized the presidential palace on Sunday – a move which forced CAR President Francois Bozize to flee the country.
“We are deeply saddened by the events and developments in that country (CAR) over the past 72 hours, which saw violence escalating and many innocent lives lost,” Zuma told a media briefing in Pretoria on Monday.
“We have confirmed that 13 of our brave soldiers, who were committed to fighting for peace and stability in Africa, fell in Bangui.”
Zuma said one South African soldier was still unaccounted for and that operations to locate the soldier were under way. Twenty-seven more South African soldiers were wounded.
“On behalf of the government and the people of South Africa, I would like to convey our sincere condolences to the bereaved families,” Zuma said, wishing the wounded soldiers a speedy recovery.
“We are truly proud of our soldiers. Just over 200 of them fought bandits numbering more than a thousand people. They fought a high tempo battle for nine hours, defending the South African military base, until the bandits raised a white flag and asked for a ceasefire.
“Our soldiers inflicted heavy casualties among the attacking bandit forces. They paid the ultimate price in the service of their country and Africa. We honour them for their bravery and commitment to peace.”
Zuma said the actions of the bandits would not deter South Africa from its responsibility of working for peace and stability in Africa, and of supporting the prevention of the military overthrow of constitutionally elected governments.
“As a member of the African Union, South Africa rejects any attempt to seize power by force, and therefore would support sanctions and other measures against the perpetrators of any unconstitutional change of government.
“Wherever our troops are deployed they have the duty to defend themselves is their positions fall under attack,” he added.
He said the government would announce further details in due course on how the nation would honour the fallen South African soldiers.
South Africa and the CAR signed a military cooperation agreement in 2007, which was renewed for a further five years in December.
The agreement was to provide the CAR’s army with an array of military training, from infantry, artillery and special forces training to logistics and driving courses, as well as the refurbishment of military infrastructure in Bouar and Bangui.