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Scaled down US-Morocco war games resume: embassy
by Staff Writers
Rabat (AFP) April 24, 2013

S.African leaders at odds on C.Africa troop re-deployment
Cape Town (AFP) April 24, 2013 - South Africa's president and his deputy contradicted each other on Wednesday on plans to re-deploy troops to the troubled Central African Republic, where 13 South African soldiers were lost last month.

President Jacob Zuma said that a summit of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) he attended in Chad had verbally requested him to resend soldiers.

The request "will be considered by us when it is formally put", Zuma told Bloomberg news agency in Cape Town. "If that request comes, if we did not go, it would not be in keeping with our policy."

But in an address to parliament in the same city, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe ruled out plans to post troops again to the restive country.

"With a very straight face, clear conscience, I deny that the government is planning to send troops to the Central African Republic," Motlanthe told parliament.

Thirteen South African troops died and 27 were wounded on March 23 when they came under fire from rebel fighters near the capital Bangui.

Several thousand rebels toppled the regime of Francois Bozize the following day.

Zuma's government has since faced thorny questions about why the troops were there, amid accusations of dodgy deals with ousted Bozize.

The government has denied any wrongdoing and Motlanthe on Wednesday defended Zuma insisting he followed all the necessary parliamentary procedures before the first deployment.

Annual US-Morocco war games, cancelled by Rabat over a Washington-backed plan for the UN's Western Sahara mission, have resumed on a smaller scale after a compromise was reached, the US embassy said Wednesday.

"The Moroccan government did ask us (in the past 48 hours) if we could resume African Lion," embassy spokesman Rodney Ford told AFP.

"Most of our forces had already redeployed. But some elements are still on the ground. So we are conducting modified limited military engagements," he said.

Aerial training, refuelling and workshops were among the resumed activities, he added.

The US army was to conduct the "African Lion 2013" joint military exercises with Morocco from April 7-27, involving 1,400 personnel from US Africa Command (AFRICOM) and 900 members of the Moroccan armed forces.

But it began withdrawing troops and equipment last week amid disagreement over a plan to broaden the Western Sahara peacekeeping force's mandate to include rights monitoring in the disputed territory and in Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria.

The US proposal triggered a furious lobbying campaign by Morocco, which called off the war games in a clear sign of Rabat's displeasure.

Washington this week dropped its demand that rights monitoring be included in the mandate of the UN mission in the Western Sahara, diplomats said, with the resolution merely to encourage stronger efforts on human rights.

The Security Council resolution on the UN peacekeeping force is to be voted on Thursday.

Giving the force a rights monitoring role is something human rights groups and the pro-independence Polisario Front have been advocating for years in the face of repeated allegations of torture of Sahrawi activists by Moroccan forces.

Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in the 1970s in a move never recognised by the international community, and proposes broad autonomy for the phosphate-rich region under its sovereignty.

But this is rejected by the Polisario, which insists on the right of Sahrawis to decide in a UN-monitored referendum whether or not they want independence.


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