Johannesburg, 27 Jumadil Awal 1434/8 April 2013 (MINA) – The Seleka group have told local and international media they killed at least 36 soldiers in the fighting around the capital, Bangui, between March 22 and 24. And Radio France Internationale has quoted an anonymous source who claimed to have seen at least 50 body bags being loaded onto a SA Airforce C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft for transport back to South Africa on March 25, a day after the fighting ended.
The government announced that 13 soldiers had died in the battle and 27 were wounded. It named the 13 dead and their bodies were publicly returned to South Africa to be honoured and buried today, Independent Online reported as monitored by Mi’raj News Agency (MINA).
Yesterday, SANDF spokesman Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga said: “The SANDF dismisses reports from foreign reporters alleging that the ‘SANDF lost more than 13 members as it has officially reported’.
“The SANDF has nothing to investigate and therefore will not conduct any investigation.”
And Pikkie Greef, national secretary of the SANDF Union who has been sharply critical of the government’s obfuscation about the purpose of the military intervention in CAR, also dismissed any possibility that the SANDF could hide so many bodies.
“I don’t buy it. It’s impossible,” he said on Friday. Greef said that every day updated reports of the SANDF’s total personnel strength passed through its operations centre.
“We have sources there and they would have picked anything up. I can tell you there has been no concealment of further casualties,” he said.
Greef added that as his union’s representative on the board of trustees of the SANDF’s life insurance scheme he would have seen claims coming through for payouts to the dependents of any other soldiers killed in the CAR battle or a stoppage on their premiums because they were no longer earning salaries.
But in Bangui, Cyril Bensimon, the RFI journalist who originally reported the claims of more SANDF deaths, stuck to his story on Friday, saying that other sources had since contacted him to confirm it. An officer of the Central African peacekeeping force, FOMAC, which had also been stationed in the CAR, had told him that FOMAC troops had brought about 40 bodies of SANDF troops back from the battlefield to the SANDF base.
A regional diplomat had also congratulated Bensimon on his article, telling him: “You have written what we could not say.”
And he said that the Seleka chief of staff, General Hakouma Arda, who led the forces which clashed with the SANDF, and who had told him he had personally seen the bodies of 36 SANDF soldiers on the battlefield, was a reliable source.
Bensimon acknowledged that it was difficult to explain how the SANDF could have concealed the deaths of so many extra soldiers from their families and the South African public.
He noted that in the past the French military had not been legally obliged to publicly reveal the deaths of members of secret operations units and suggested this same policy might still apply in South Africa. But Greef said he was not aware of such a policy. (T/P09/P03)
Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)