Defence Minister Hon. Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula at the Joint Standing Committee on Defence. - Photo: Parliament of the RSA

Cape Town - South Africasent troops and “strategic airlifting capabilities” to neighbouring countries following a battle in Central African Republic, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said.

She confirmed for the first time that troops were stationed elsewhere.

During the department’s heated budget debate in Parliament this week, DA MP David Maynier waved around a poster-sized photograph of a South African Rooivalk in the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying it was proof that Parliament had been misled about the deployment of troops to the CAR.

However, speaking yesterday at a Cape Town Press Club media briefing, Mapisa-Nqakula said while she had no idea where Maynier’s picture had been taken, strategic airlifting capabilities were deployed to neighbouring countries after the attack on South African troops in the CAR.

In March, South African troops came under heavy fire from rebel groups marching on the capital Bangui.

At least 13 soldiers were killed in the CAR while the 14th soldier died in hospital in South Africa after troops were withdrawn.

Reports surfaced at the time that South African troops were massing in Uganda and the DRC, possibly to strengthen forces in the CAR.

While Mapisa-Nqakula did not name the neighbouring countries, she said some troops were stationed elsewhere, but only to help in the withdrawal of troops after the clashes.

She said President Jacob Zuma had in January authorised the deployment of 400 soldiers to the CAR, but nearly 250 had been deployed.

Those sent to neighbouring countries had fallen under the 400 authorised deployments.

“After the attack in Bangui, we were assessing whether to remain there or to evacuate. You need to position yourself, so that if you need to evacuate, you can do it as quickly as possible,” she said.

“When the attack happened, the chief of the SANDF took the decision to position South Africa’s capabilities around the CAR.”

The minister said her department had not responded to reports at the time that troops were being sent to Uganda and the DRC, as this would have made the evacuation operation “vulnerable”.

“Everything went smoothly,” she said.

Mapisa-Nqakula also indicated that South Africa would not be going back into Bangui alone.

Rule of law has dissolved in the CAR and fighting and human rights abuses continue.

However, the minister said any requests for a peacekeeping force to restore law and order should be made by regional groups such as the AU.

She said the request would be officially considered only when formally made.

Saturday Star