Rebels claim more SA soldiers died in CAR

SELEKA rebel commanders have made sensational new claims that dozens more South African troops were captured and killed during the battle of Bangui in the Central African Republic than was admitted by the SA National Defence Force.

General Hassan Ahmat, commander of the 558-strong Brigade Rouge, said in Bangui this week that he and his men had killed at least 36 South African soldiers and captured 46, releasing them soon afterwards.

“We were coming down from Bossangoa in 19 vehicles and we found the South African troops at PK12,” he said.

PK12 is a suburb of Bangui 12km from the city centre and 2km from the South African base at PK10.

“Afterwards, I saw 36 bodies of South African soldiers lying near here,” he said, pointing to the road into Bangui. “More could have died afterwards from their wounds.”

He said an NGO had recovered the bodies but this could not be confirmed. Ahmat also claimed that ousted president François Bozizé appeared between PK10 and PK12 in a white Toyota bakkie before fighting broke out on March 24.

Ahmat said he was guarded by South African soldiers.

He said he had received reports from his me n that Bozizé was doling out cash to the South African soldiers, although this could not be verified independently.

“That's why I have no respect for them,” he said. “Bozizé lied that South Africa was here to train Central African Republic’s troops. They were mercenaries, that is why he gave them money.”

Three other Seleka rebels confirmed Ahmat’s account yesterday. “I saw 36 bodies of South African soldiers lying along the canal on the side of the road near here,” said Colonel Bishara Ali Mahadien.

SANDF spokesman Brigadier- General Xolani Mabanga described the comments as “blue lies”.

“I don’t know what they hope to achieve with these unfounded stories. We were not close to Bozizé. If they thought that we were mercenaries, why did they not wipe us out? Why did they not kill us like they are doing with everybody else associated with Bozizé?”

The SANDF had an obligation to declare the death of “anybody who died in the service of the SANDF regardless of the post or position where they served”.

“For the record, we lost 13 men and suffered 27 casualties. Everybody deployed in CAR we can account for. We have no missing soldiers or missing bodies.”

International Affairs and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana- Mashabane yesterday said her department was investigating the claims . “We will keep South Africans informed,” she said.

Intelligence Minister Siyabonga Cwele held talks with CAR rebel leader Michel Djotodia in Bangui yesterday. Cwele, Nkoana-Mashabane and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula accompanied President Jacob Zuma to the extraordinary summit of heads of state and government of the Economic Community of Central African States in Chad.