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Hard questions for South Africa over CAR battle

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s government faced tough questions Wednesday about its military mission in the Central African Republic after 13 of its soldiers were killed by rebels there last week.

South Africa’s political opposition called for a parliamentary inquiry into what the troops were doing in Central African Republic amid allegations that their tasks included the protection of Francois Bozize, the president who fled to Cameroon after his ouster.

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South African authorities have denied deploying a presidential bodyguard, saying the mission was to train the national army and that more forces went to protect South African “assets” as security deteriorated. The force of about 200 soldiers fought a much larger group of well-armed rebels in the capital, Bangui, before a truce was reached.

The South African contingent remained in the Central African Republic on Wednesday, said Brigadier General ­Xolani Mabanga.

“They are still safe,” Mabanga said. “The situation is still calm.”

Yet the mandate of the battered South African force, based on a deal with an ousted government, was precarious at best. Allegations that Bozize was corrupt and a power-monger, cited by rebels as the reason for their uprising, have undercut South Africa’s assertions that it was contributing to peace and stability.

The uproar comes as South Africa hosts the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, and China at a summit in Durban, an event that allows it to showcase its ambitions.

South Africa has a history of contributing to peacekeeping missions. According to Mabanga, it currently has troops in Congo under United Nations auspices, in Sudan’s Darfur region under a mandate approved by the UN and African Union, and in a maritime security operation in Mozambique under a bilateral deal.

Jeff Dubazana, spokesman for the South African National Defense Union, said troops involved in the battle had told his organization that they were attacked not just by advancing rebels, but also rebellious forces under Bozize’s command.

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