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All S.African troops out of Central Africa

Published on 11/04/2013

South Africa said Tuesday it had pulled all troops out of the Central African Republic after a deadly coup that killed 13 troops and raised questions about opaque business deals.

The handful of soldiers that had remained in Bangui after a bloody coup last month “have been withdrawn and are back home safe”, the defence force said in a statement.

The deaths of the 13 soldiers was South Africa’s worst military loss since the end of apartheid.

Another 27 were injured in the gun battle which left between 600 and 1,000 rebels dead, the defence force said, citing unnamed sources.

But the return home of the last South African troops has done little to dull controversy over their role.

South African media have claimed the troops were there to protect business deals between President Jacob Zuma and ousted president Francois Bozize.

Pretoria strongly denies those allegations. According to the ministry of defence, a small force was deployed to the country to train soldiers from the ousted regime.

A further 200 troops were then sent to the country to protect the South African trainers.

But the opposition Democratic Alliance party on Tuesday unveiled a 2006 pact between the two states that included cooperation on “energy and mines”.

Defence shadow minister David Maynier said the agreement showed that the scope of the cooperation was not limited to defence and security, as officials had claimed.

While this did not signal evidence that soldiers were sent to Central Africa “to protect business interests”, it meant more red flags around the controversial deployment, he said.

“Whatever the case, this will inevitably raise more questions about South Africa’s real interests in the CAR.”

Apart from defence and security, the “framework cooperation agreement”, inked in Pretoria, also targets areas such as transport, capacity building in the public service and social needs like education and health.

It was valid for two years, with a provision for automatic renewal unless the pact was terminated.

Despite the public demanding answers, the South African government has limited revealing details on the deployment, with President Zuma warning this could threaten state security.

Hitting out at on reports of inflated death tolls, the military on Tuesday said it could “account for each and every person that was deployed”.

The number of soldiers who had returned was not disclosed. Nine troops remained in hospital.