PRETORIA — At least 13 South African soldiers were killed and another 27 wounded in fighting with rebels in Central African Republic (CAR), President Jacob Zuma said yesterday, the worst military setback for Pretoria since the end of apartheid.
Rebels seized the riverside capital of Bangui in fierce fighting on Sunday, forcing President François Bozize to flee and sowing confusion over who rules the mineral-rich heart of Africa.
Zuma said the death toll, the worst combat losses for South Africa’s military since 1994, would not interfere with Pretoria’s desire to become a regional power.
“It is a sad moment for our country,” Zuma told a media briefing, adding that another soldier was still missing.
“The actions of these bandits will not deter us from our responsibility of working for peace and stability in Africa.” He said South Africa had not decided yet whether or not to withdraw its forces. Zuma said the South African forces defended their base for 9 hours, inflicting heavy casualties until the rebels asked for a ceasefire.
Regional peacekeeping sources said the South Africans had fought alongside the Central African Republic’s army on Saturday to prevent rebels entering the capital.
A few hundred South African troops have been deployed in the country.