Johannesburg — Thirteen South African soldiers were killed and 27 wounded in clashes with rebels in Central African Republic, President Jacob Zuma announced on Monday.
"We are deeply saddened by the events and developments in that country over the past 72 hours, which saw violence escalating and many innocent lives lost. We have confirmed that 13 of our brave soldiers who were committed to fighting for peace and stability in Africa fell in Bangui," Zuma said at a briefing in Pretoria.
"One soldiers is still not accounted for and they are still looking for him.
"Twenty seven were wounded. We wish them a speedy recovery. The chief of the SANDF will provide further details later today on operational matters," Zuma said.
In December, Zuma sent Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to the Central African Republic to assess the security environment and general situation which was tense after the Seleka rebel coalition launched an armed campaign.
The report from that mission recommended an intervention, he said.
On January 2 2013, Zuma as the commander-in-chief authorised the deployment of up to 400 South African soldiers to CAR.
Only 200 of the soldiers had been sent at the time of the attack.
Zuma said South Africa and CAR had signed a military co-operation agreement in 2007. This was renewed for a further five years in December 2012.
That agreement entailed provision of military training to the CAR army and refurbishment of military infrastructure.
The deployment of SANDF troops in CAR was part of the country's effort to contribute towards peace and stability in the region, Zuma said.
SANDF was tasked with building the capacity of the CAR defence force and help the CAR with the planning and implementation of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process.
"On behalf of the government and the people of South Africa we would like to convey our sincere condolences to the bereaved families," he said.
The just over 200 soldiers fought armed forces numbering over 1000 in a high tempo battle which lasted nine hours until the rebels raised a white flag and asked for a cease fire.
"South African soldiers inflicted heavy casualties among the attacking bandits," he said.
Zuma said the South African government had not taken any decision to withdraw the army from CAR.
"We have not taken a decision to withdraw. You would in a sense appreciate that there existed an agreement between two countries…And our being there was related to the task that we were given. We defended our base successfully…There has been no reason for us to leave. What we've been looking at is how do we enforce our forces, how do we ensure that there are no further casualties," said Zuma.
"There is no reason for us to issue a command for withdrawal."