, JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Apr 4 – South Africa has decided to pull its troops out of the Central African Republic because the deal under which they were deployed has become void with the fall the government there, President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday.
“We have taken a decision to withdraw our soldiers,” Zuma was quoted as saying by the public broadcaster SABC, at the end of a summit of African regional leaders.
Zuma had faced questions over the presence of the troops following the gunning down by rebels of 13 South African paratroopers in the battle that saw rebels seize the capital Bangui late last month.
“We were in CAR on the basis of the agreement between the two countries,” he said at the end of the summit, which ended late on Wednesday.
“Our mission was to help train the soldiers… since the coup and the self-appointment of rebels, it was clear that the government is no longer there,” Zuma told SABC at the end of a meeting of the Economic Community of Central African States in the Chadian capital Ndjamena.
The decision to withdraw was first announced by summit host, Chadian leader Idriss Deby, late Wednesday. He added that Zuma was however ready to provide troops in the future if necessary.
The killing of the 13 troops, the country’s heaviest military loss since the apartheid era, has stirred anger at home.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), which had threatened to lodge an urgent resolution in parliament to force the immediate withdrawal of the troops, welcomed Zuma’s decision to bring back home the troops.
“This is especially welcoming news for the family and friends of the troops stationed in the CAR,” DA leader Helen Zille said in a statement Thursday.
The opposition wants Zuma to ensure that “our soldiers are returned to South African soil immediately.”
The opposition however still demands “a full explanation of why South African troops were deployed in the CAR in the first place.”
Over 200 troops were in the troubled African country last month, but it was unclear how many remained there after the fall of Bangui. Local media reports suggest a few dozens may still be inside the restive country.
The deaths of the soldiers prompted allegations that the troops were deployed to protect commercial interests, but Zuma rejected those claims.
South Africa sent in extra troops into Bangui this year as protection for troops already on a training mission, which included instructing a VIP protection unit, as part of a 2007 pact.
But it also stated in 2011 that soldiers were deployed to provide VIP protection to fallen president Francois Bozize who fled his country after the capital fell.