SA soldiers killed in CAR clashes

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IOL pic mar25 sandf in central african republic Reuters A South African soldier stands on top of an armoured vehicle in Begoua, 17km from Bangui, in this still image take from video footage. Rebels in the Central African Republic seized control of the capital city after fierce fighting on Sunday, forcing President Francois Bozize to flee.

Johannesburg - South African soldiers were killed and injured during the clashes in the Central African Republic (CAR), the South African National Defence Force said on Sunday.

“Following the engagement that we had between the SANDF members and the CAR rebels, there were some casualties from both sides,” Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga said.

“We are at the moment still trying to assess the information from the people on the ground. We cannot therefore confirm any figures.”

He said the situation in the CAR was calm by Sunday afternoon and there was no threat to the lives of South African soldiers.

“But we don't take anything lightly. We are taking all the precautionary measures.”

He said the contact between SANDF members and CAR rebel forces took place on Saturday.

The clashes happened at a SANDF base on the outskirts of Bangui, the CAR capital, as well as other isolated incidents.

He could not give any further details.

“We are working towards issuing a media statement.”

Earlier, the SANDF issued a statement saying it had deployed more troops to the CAR following days of clashes between armed forces and rebels.

“Following changes in the security situation in the CAR, the SANDF sent in some more support to protect its personnel and equipment,” Mabanga said in the statement.

He said the SANDF has been deploying troops to the CAR since 2007 following a memorandum of understanding between the two countries. However since the recent changes in security situation more troops had been sent.

“Since then the security situation deteriorated.”

Mabanga said SANDF managed to drive back rebels who attacked the base outside Bangui.

“The chief of the SANDF has emphasised that the SANDF reserves the right, at all times, to act decisively in defence of its members and assets deployed on the ground in CAR.”

Mabanga said he could not disclose the number of South African soldiers in the CAR for security reasons.

CAR President Francois Bozize fled the capital early on Sunday after hundreds of armed rebels threatening to overthrow him invaded the city, the Associated Press reported.

And by midday on Sunday, the rebels reportedly took control of Bangui.

The rebel alliance, known as Seleka, reached the outskirts of Bangui late Saturday and the fighters seized the presidential palace on Sunday.

Rebels from several armed groups that have long opposed Bozize joined forces in December and began seizing towns across the country's sparsely populated north. They threatened at the time to march on Bangui, but ultimately halted their advance and agreed to go to peace negotiations in Libreville, the capital of Gabon.

A peace deal was signed on January 11 which allowed Bozize to finish his term that expires in 2016, but the rebels soon began accusing the president of failing to fulfil the promises that were made, the Associated Press reported.

They demanded that Bozize send home South African forces who were helping bolster the country's military. And they sought to integrate 2 000 rebel fighters into Central African Republic's armed forces.

The deal unravelled more than a week ago, with the rebels again taking control of two towns and threatening to advance on the capital. - Sapa



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