JOHANNESBURG, Mar 31 – South African soldiers who survived last week’s rebel takeover of the Central African Republic are traumatised after discovering later that some of the rebels killed were child soldiers, local Sunday newspapers reported.
In what has turned out to be South Africa’s heaviest military loss since apartheid, 13 soldiers were killed last weekend in Bangui in clashes with Seleka rebels who toppled president Francois Bozize.
Around 200 South African troops fought against some 3,000 rebels during the battle for the Central African capital that lasted several hours.
Some of survivors who have returned home recounted to local newspapers that they only discovered after the battle that they had been fighting against some teenage rebel soldiers.
“It was only after the firing had stopped that we saw we had killed kids. We did not come here for this… to kill kids. It makes you sick. They were crying calling for help… calling for (their) moms,” a paratrooper told the Sunday Times.
South African President Jacob Zuma in January had approved the deployment of 400 soldiers to the Central African Republic to help local troops. as part of a bilateral pact with the administration of now deposed Bozize.
In the end about 200 soldiers were sent.
Some of the Central African rebels were “teenagers who should be in school,” the soldier told the paper.
In the City Press a soldier was quoted as saying many of the rebels were “only children”.
The two papers also quoted the soldiers saying the South African troops were running out of ammunition.
South Africa’s government now faces increasing calls at home for a probe into why troops were sent to the Central African Republic.
Zuma is due to attend an extraordinary summit of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) on Wednesday to be hosted by the Chadian leader Idriss Deby Itno.