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S.African troops claim child soldiers killed in C. Africa

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

South African soldiers who survived last week's rebel takeover of the Central African Republic are traumatised after claiming they later discovered some of the rebels killed were child soldiers, local media reported Sunday.

In what has turned out to be South Africa's heaviest military loss since apartheid, 13 soldiers were killed last weekend in Bangui in clashes with Seleka rebels who toppled president Francois Bozize.

Around 200 South African troops fought against some 3,000 rebels during the battle for the Central African capital that lasted several hours.

Some troops who have returned to South Africa recounted to local newspapers that they only discovered after the battle that they had been fighting against some child rebel soldiers.

"It was only after the firing had stopped that we saw we had killed kids. We did not come here for this... to kill kids. It makes you sick. They were crying calling for help... calling for (their) moms," a paratrooper told the Sunday Times.

South African President Jacob Zuma in January had approved the deployment of 400 soldiers to the Central African Republic to help local forces, as part of a bilateral pact with the administration of now deposed Bozize. In the end about 200 soldiers were sent.

Some of the Central African rebels were "teenagers who should be in school," the soldier, who like others requested anonymity, told the paper.

In the City Press newspaper a soldier was quoted as saying many of the rebels were "only children".

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) told AFP it was not ready to comment on allegations that child rebel soldiers had engaged its troop in Bangui, as it had not received any such reports.

"What we were informed is the SANDF were attacked by advancing groups of rebels ... and they opened fire on our soldiers and our soldiers returned fire in self-defence," defence spokesman Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said.

"Now to say the composition (of the rebel forces) was made of this and that, I wouldn't really like to engage," he added.

The two newspapers also quoted the soldiers saying the South African troops were running out of ammunition before the rebels approached them to surrender.

But Mabanga shot back at the allegation saying it did not make sense to say South Africans were running low on ammunition when the rebels waved a white flag.

"If I'm fighting you and you realise that I am running out of ammunition, which means that I cannot fight you anymore, why do you have to surrender?" he said.

South Africa's government now faces increasing calls at home for a probe into why troops were sent to the Central African Republic.

Zuma is due to attend an extraordinary summit of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) on Wednesday to be hosted by the Chadian leader Idriss Deby Itno.

sn/boc

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130331/safrican-troops-claim-child-soldiers-killed-c-africa