Home | News    Wednesday 17 June 2015

Report on Sudanese troops holding S. African peacekeepers in Darfur ‘hostages’ draws swift denials

June 16, 2015 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese and South African governments as well as the United Nations (UN) strongly denied a report alleging that Khartoum held its peacekeepers in Darfur ‘hostages’ while they ascertain that president Omer Hassan al-Bashir has arrived safely from the African Union (AU) summit in Johannesburg.

A UNAMID peacekeeper during a routine patrol in Tawila, North Darfur.(Photo UNAMID/Hamid Abdelsalam)

Bashir narrowly escaped an arrest order issued by High Court judges in South Africa in compliance with the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants against him for war crimes and genocide allegedly committed in Darfur.

South Africa refused to execute a court decision issued last Sunday that ordered Bashir to remain in the country while a case against him is being reviewed.

After his departure, the government suggested that he left without their knowledge and vowed to submit an affidavit early next week explaining how this happened.

On Tuesday, South Africa’s website News24 quoted unnamed peacekeepers in Darfur as saying that they were held “hostage” by Sudanese troops when the drama around Bashir’s possible arrest in Johannesburg.

“We were so scared – we were surrounded by soldiers. We handed out extra ammunition to all our troops in case they needed it,” said one South African soldier in Sudan on Tuesday.

“Vehicles approached our bases and the commander placed us on State 2 of readiness,” said another soldier. This meant all troops had to be in combat gear, fully armed, and positioned in bunkers and against embankments.

Another soldier said if the situation got out of hand, “we would have had to surrender to save our lives, because you can’t fight a country’s army with a poorly equipped battalion”.

“I am so thankful that South Africa did not arrest Bashir. The battalion commander said after Bashir touched down safely in Khartoum, all the [Sudanese] troops were withdrawn. The calamity has returned to normal,” reads a message sent by a soldier in Darfur to his friends in South Africa.

But the South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) rejected the report calling it unfounded.

“There is no iota of truth in these allegations. There is equally no substance to support these allegations. The SANDF did not come under any threat during this period,” SANDF said in a statement.

“No extra-ordinary operational preparedness was done by the SANDF in view of the reported situation in South Africa. No additional instructions, with regard to higher alert levels, were issued. The security situation in Darfur is calm where our troops are deployed.”

The United Nations also dismissed the report.

"South Africa currently has 802 members of an infantry battalion deployed in Kutum, Malha and Mellit team sites in North Darfur. We can confirm that the mission’s South African troops were not held hostage or under any threat as reported in the media," U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement.

A Sudanese official speaking to Sudan Tribune on condition of anonymity called this report “part of a domestic political battle in South Africa.

“This is the same battle that moved the court proceedings [in South Africa against Bashir] from the start,” the official added.

The Sudanese foreign ministry spokesperson said in a statement to al-Sudani newspaper that the information included in the report are “imaginary” adding that Khartoum has no control over Darfur peacekeeping mission.

But the South African National Defence Union’s (SANDU) Pikkie Greeff told Eyewitness News (EWN) on Tuesday said this incident had been confirmed by several sources, some of them soldiers.

“The Sudanese army only withdrew from their position once al-Bashir left South Africa. This would boil down to blackmail by threatening someone with war.”

Greef said he has no reason to doubt the reports because they come from the soldiers.

“We are concerned about the safety of our soldiers because they are there as peacekeepers and not there for conventional war. Zuma must take a firm stand on this issue,” he added.

SANDU is the South African trade union for SANDF members.