South African soldiers have gathered in Uganda for a “new mission” to the Central African Republic (CAR), where 13 of their comrades were killed in a rebel coup at the weekend, South African media and a senior Ugandan officer have said.
“The intention of the South Africans is to reorganise themselves and then redeploy massively in CAR and topple these rebels. They were humiliated and they want to avenge,” the officer said.
The deaths were Pretoria’s heaviest military defeat since the end of apartheid in 1994 and president Jacob Zuma has drawn fierce criticism for reinforcing 26 military trainers in the capital, Bangui, after an initial rebel advance in December.
The officer said 200 South African soldiers had assembled at Entebbe air base near Kampala in Uganda with plans to hit back against the Seleka rebel coalition that toppled president François Bozize in the mineral-rich former French colony.
“Over the weekend, South Africa asked Uganda for use of its Entebbe airforce base for evacuation of their personnel after they were ordered to withdraw temporarily from CAR,” the officer said.
South Africa’s ENCA television channel reported that the soldiers were grouping in Entebbe for a “new mission” into the Central African Republic. It was unclear whether they were new deployments or included evacuees from last week’s clashes.
A commander of the five-nation Central African Multinational Force (Fomac) regional peace-keeping force in Bangui said South African soldiers remained in the country. The dead and wounded have been flown to Pretoria.
Rebel forces and international peacekeepers mopped up pockets of resistance in Bangui on Wednesday as life returned to normal after three days of looting following the coup. The Seleka rebels had struggled to stamp out the chaos and were forced to appeal to peacekeepers from neighbouring central African states to help control gunmen looting houses, businesses, United Nation’s offices and even hospitals.
Keeping his promise to honour a power-sharing deal signed in January, self-proclaimed president Michel Djotodia officially reappointed Nicolas Tiangaye, a civilian opposition figure, as prime minister to lead a transitional government.
South African media and the opposition have questioned why Mr Zuma had sent troops to a country 2,200 miles away, with some suggesting they were there to protect business interests linked to the ruling African National Congress (ANC).