Publication: Beeld Issued: Date: 2004-06-09 Reporter: Erika Gibson

SA Soldiers 'Sitting Ducks'




Date 2004-06-09


Erika Gibson

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Pretoria - South African soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are sitting ducks because of the drastic shortage of serviceable armoured vehicles.

This criticism came from soldiers in the field who were despondent because a months-long shortage of spare parts for Caspir armoured vehicles resulted in only two serviceable Caspirs per company (130 soldiers) on average.

On Sunday, South African soldiers were ambushed north of Goma when Interahamwe rebels shot at them.

One rifleman was wounded. He and another soldier died when they rolled their Samil 20 troop carrier in an effort to get away.

They were escorting a logistics vehicle, a Samil 100 loaded with equipment, when they were ambushed.

The soldiers said only Caspirs and Samils, but no Mambas, were available for patrols.

Take aim and fire

They said the Samils were not mine-proof like the Caspirs and Mambas. The Samils were trustworthy, but old. In addition, the Samils have open sides, which allowed rebels hiding along the road to take aim and fire at South African troops at their leisure.

Each of the four companies deployed in the eastern DRC as part of the United Nations (UN) peace force, was supposed to have 12 Caspirs.

But for months now each company had only four, of which only two were serviceable.

At one base near Bukavu, which rebels took over in the past week, a Caspir had been standing on blocks for the past year.

The soldiers said they got a standard reply: no spares available.

Defence Minister Mosioua Lekota said earlier this week South African soldiers were not being exposed to unnecessary danger in the DRC.

Our soldiers are safe

He said: "I am satisfied that our soldiers are safe and do not face any dangers."

UN guidelines stated the South African defence force was responsible for the servicing of its own vehicles.

Henri Boshoff of the Institute for Security Studies said on Tuesday a commanding officer couldn't expect his men to be safe simply because they were wearing the UN's blue helmets that rendered them "untouchable".

He said a company protecting a logistics vehicle had to use an armoured vehicle.

Boshoff said there were two opposing rebel armies in Bukavu, each with about 4 000 soldiers, while there were only 400 UN soldiers.

Best in the world

"Against such odds the soldiers need every protection they can get and they shouldn't be transported in a vehicle that is not armoured."

Military analyst Helmoed Romer-Heitman said it was ironic that South Africa had the best armoured vehicles in the world, but that these were not being used in the DRC.

"The defence force has a responsibility towards its troops even though it is operating under the auspices of the UN."

The defence force earlier referred all enquiries regarding the situation in the DRC to the UN.

With acknowledgements to Erika Gibson and the Beeld.