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SANDF deny SA troops held hostage over Bashir saga

“The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has noted with utter dismay the reports in various media alleging that SANDF troops are being held hostage in Sudan. There is no iota of truth in these allegations,” SANDF spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said.

“The SANDF did not come under any threat during this period.”

He was responding to an online media report that Sudanese troops had held 1 400 South African soldiers serving in the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (Unamid) hostage as a diplomatic crisis around the potential arrest of Bashir in South Africa escalated.

It said Sudanese troops surrounded their South African counterparts in the western Sudanese region and only withdrew once Bashir had landed in Khartoum on Monday.

But according to Dlamini the situation in the area of North Darfur where the South African troops are stationed was calm on Monday.

“The SANDF commander in the Kutum region conducts regular meetings with the Government of Sudan (GOS) commanders in the area of responsibility, with the last meeting held on Monday June 15 2015. Good working relationships between the GOS and other forces is the order of the day,” he said.

SA troops allegedly surrounded by Sudanese soldiers
It was reacting to a report by Netwerk24, quoting unnamed South African soldiers in Sudan, that heavily armed Sudanese soldiers had surrounded military bases in Kutum, Mellit and Malha, and that South African troops were placed in a state of combat readiness.

According to the Netwerk24 report, vehicles approached the South African bases and all troops had to be in combat gear, fully armed, and positioned in bunkers and against embankments.

“I am so thankful that South Africa did not arrest Bashir. The battalion commander said after Bashir touched down safely in Khartoum, all the [Sudanese] troops were withdrawn. The calamity has returned to normal,” reads a message sent by a soldier in Darfur to his friends in South Africa.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from the conflict in Darfur. Arrest warants against him were issued in 2009 and 2010. As a party to the Rome Statute, South Africa was obliged to arrest him afer he arrived in the country at the weekend to attend the African Union summit in Johannesburg.

The Southern African Litigation Centre successfully went to court to secure an order forcing the government to arrest him. But after it was handed down by the Pretoria High Court on Monday afternoon, legal counsel for the government confirmed that Bashir had flown out of the country. 

Al-Bashir left South Africa, defying a Pretoria court order for him to remain in the country until it ruled on an application for his arrest. 

South Africa is an ICC signatory and therefore obliged to implement arrest warrants, but the African National Congress on Sunday accused the Hague-based court of being biased against Africans and said it was “no longer useful”.

Pretoria’s furious response and its decision to allow Bashir to leave is affirmation of its shifting diplomatic priorities with Africa’s interests trumping those of the West. – ANA, News24, additional reporting by Reuters.

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