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Govt moves quickly to quell diplomatic spat with US over terror alert

Yesterday Dirco & State Security accused the US of trying to interfere with SA’s efforts to combat terrorism.

FILE: The City of Johannesburg, with Ellis Park Stadium on the left and the Johannesburg Stadium on the right. Picture: Aki Anastasiou/EWN.

PRETORIA - The South African government appears to have moved quickly to quell a diplomatic spat with the United States by overriding a strongly worded statement issued by the International Relations Department and State Security Agency (SSA).

On Wednesday, those departments issued a statement in response to terror alert at the weekend, in which it accused the Americans of trying to interfere with, and manipulate, the country's efforts to combat terrorism.

Yesterday, Cabinet announced that the only official position on the alerts was expressed by the Presidency, which said South Africa continues to have cordial relations with the US.

On Wednesday, the International Relations Department's Clayson Monyela had strong words for the US embassy, and serious allegations.

"The South African government rejects attempts by foreign countries to influence, manipulate or control our country's counter-terrorism work."

Monyela has earlier said government is fully capable of protecting its citizens and foreigners in the country.

"We expect foreign embassies on our soil to follow the correct channels when communicating matters of such nature. Should the need arise, the South African government would be the first to inform the public about any imminent threat."

Yesterday, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe toned it down and distanced government from Monyela's comments.

"The relations between the United States and South Africa are cordial in all spheres, including on security matters, so that's the government official position."

Monyela has also deleted a tweet where he claimed that his statement was one of the strongest he'd ever written and that he'd obtained clearance from the highest level.

SA NOT IMMUNE TO TERROR ATTACKS

At the same time, the Institute for Race Relations has said it has been warning that South Africa is not immune to terrorist attacks for years, emphasising that the type of attacks in France and Belgium are very difficult to prevent.

The institute said South Africa has porous borders, there's access to weapons and terror suspects have been found in possession of South African passports.

CEO Frans Cronje said there should have been a coordinated statement between government and foreign agencies.

"The initial statements from the minister was that there are no threats. It's silly in some respect, there's no country, no agency that can't be immune from these attacks. The attacks in Tel Aviv, in a society such as Israel with their quality of security and intelligent services can't prevent an attack."

He said, "South Africa has very porous borders, it's easy to obtain fraudulent documentation. Our weapons are easily available, we are on the tail of what's called 'the African terror belt' - there are numerous examples of terror suspects, or people linked to terror suspects being found in possession of South African documents."

On Monday, the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium said it had verified reports of al-Shabaab supporters in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and in a suburb in Vereeniging.

The US embassy has warned attacks are likely to be carried out at upscale shopping malls in Cape Town and Johannesburg during the month of Ramadan.

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