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South Africa Sends 400 Troops to Central African Republic

The commander of regional African force Jean-Felix Akaga reviews troops, on January 2, 2013 in Bangui.
South Africa has sent 400 troops to the Central African Republic, where rebels are threatening to advance on the capital. The South African foreign ministry says the deployment shows Africa can handle its own problems, without intervention from outside the continent.

The 400 South African troops were sent to the Central African Republic last week, the presidency said late Sunday. The South African statement said the troops are to help government soldiers fend off a rebel advance that has pushed to less than 200 kilometers from Bangui, the capital.

This latest rebellion is one of many that have rocked the desperately poor, though mineral-rich, Central African Republic since it gained independence from France in 1960. The current president came to power through a 2003 coup, though he was later elected to the position.

The presidency statement said South African troops will remain through 2018 to help build the CAR army and assist with the disarmament, demobilization and re-integration of rebel fighters.

South Africa is one of several countries that have sent troops in an attempt to defend the CAR government from a rebel coalition called Seleka, which has seized about one-third of the country.

One of Seleka’s complaints is the government has failed to follow through on its promises, including a vow to help disarm and reintegrate rebels into society. But some of the rebels are also demanding the president step down, which the government says is not an option.

The rebels have promised to attend peace talks scheduled for later this week in Gabon. But analysts have questioned whether the rebels are a united force and will follow through.

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj says South Africa is committed to bringing about stability and peace on the continent. South Africa Foreign Ministry Spokesman Clayson Monyela says the move also shows Africa is capable of solving its own problems.

“Wherever a conflict flares up, South Africa always intervenes, always within the context of the African Union or in consultation with the African Union. But we do always offer help and assistance and intervention in creating peace and trying to resolve whatever crisis could be happening in any part of the continent," Monyela said. "And it is all within the context of finding African solutions to African problems. And it also demonstrates tangibly that Africans are capable of resolving their own problems without foreign intervention. Obviously we welcome the cooperation of international partners, but Africans are quite capable of resolving problems on the continent.”

As the continent’s economic powerhouse, South Africa is active in U.N. and AU peacekeeping missions around the continent, Monyela said.

South African President Jacob Zuma has long lobbied for an African nation to hold a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, and participating in peacekeeping missions is seen as strengthening that campaign.