Africa

SA troops to be withdrawn from CAR

Sapa, AFP

Chad's leader says President Jacob Zuma has pledged that South African troops will pull out of the Central African Republic.

Members of the SANDF attend the memorial service of the soldiers who died in the Central African Republic on April 2 2013. (Gallo)

"President Zuma has decided to withdraw the South African forces which are deployed in Bangui," Chad's President Idriss Deby said, adding that Zuma was ready to provide troops in the future if necessary.

Zuma faced prickly questions over the presence of his troops, 13 of whom were killed in the bloody battle for the capital, Bangui.

Meanwhile, African leaders said they would not recognise Central African Republic (CAR)'s new self-proclaimed leader, as the nation's post-coup crisis came under the spotlight at a regional summit in Chad on Wednesday.

A transitional president should be elected in place of Seleka rebel leader Michel Djotodia, Deby told journalists at a meeting of the Economic Community Of Central African States (Eccas).

"As things stand now, it is impossible to recognise a self-proclaimed president," he said.

"A committee selected by national figures must lead the transition. This body will have the executive role and must vote for a transitional president" who would serve for not more than 18 months, he said.

Power grab
Djotodia grabbed power on March 24 after a rapid assault on the capital Bangui in revenge for unfulfilled promises in a January peace deal with the government.

He has retained Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye in his post and says he will hold elections by 2016, a promise the international community is keen for him to keep.

Deby said a legislative body would be created to take on the role of a parliament and a mission of ministers from Eccas, the African Union and the European Union, among others, dispatched to the Central African capital Bangui on Thursday "to take the message to Central Africans".

Chad, the region's dominant military power, hosted the Eccas meeting as a way to give the rebel Seleka coalition regime in Central Africa a semblance of legitimacy, according to a diplomatic source.

Missing from the talks was ousted CAR president François Bozizé, who said he had been refused a seat at the summit.

Asylum
Leaders nevertheless called on Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi to grant an asylum request from Bozizé, last reported to be in Cameroon, "if he asks".

"The ex-president Bozizé is in Cameroon, we have asked Benin's president, if [Bozizé] asks, to welcome him there as a brother," Idriss Deby said.

Bozizé, who fled Bangui amid the rebel assault, has accused his former Chadian allies of backing the rebels who unseated him, in an interview with BBC Africa.

Observers have said Bozizé appears to have been left in the lurch by Chad, a once-powerful ally which helped him mount a coup in 2003, while a recent report from the International Crisis Group mentions Chad's "dubious relations with Seleka".

Some 400 Chadian soldiers formed part of a multinational African peacekeeping force (Fomac), sent to stabilise the country in 2008.

However it was South African soldiers stationed in the capital who came up against the rebels on March 23-24, as they stormed the capital after the January peace deal collapsed.

"It was Chadian special forces that led the operation on the Sunday morning and attacked the base of the South Africans," Bozizé told the BBC.

The battle
South African defence analyst Helmoed Heitman backed up these claims in a detailed account of the battle in the Sunday Independent.

"The 'rag tag' rebel force originally reported" ... had "flak jackets, new AK47s and heavy weapons up to 23mm cannons," he wrote in the South African newspaper.

"It was also clear that many were not from the CAR, some speaking with Chad accents and others having distinctly Arabic features." South Africa's heaviest military loss since apartheid raised prickly questions for Zuma over why his troops were sent to an area where South Africa has no immediate strategic interests.

Zuma on Tuesday said a contingent was sent to train local forces and provide protection for the now deposed Bozizé under a 2007 deal.

But CAR sources close to the presidency and security sources say Zuma and Bozizée had signed accords "giving South African businesses access to oil, diamond and gold riches". In exchange, South Africa would defend Bozizé's regime.

Eccas will hold another summit once the international mission to Central African Republic has completed its work, Deby said on Wednesday, to continue to monitor the situation in the unstable country.

Though looting and clashes have petered out in the capital since the coup, reports emerged on Wednesday of pillaging by both pro-Bozizé soldiers and Seleka rebels in the west of Central African Republic, an area previously spared by the fighting.

A senior Seleka rebel who wished to remain anonymous said on Wednesday the coalition was deploying troops to the region. Seleka rebels themselves are now being disarmed, a source close to Tiangaye said. – Sapa, AFP

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