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Soldiers sue S Africa over Aids

South African troops serve as peacekeepers in several countries

A trade union representing South Africa's soldiers is taking the defence ministry to court, accusing it of discriminating against people with HIV.

The South African Security Forces Union (Sasfu) says people with the Aids virus are not recruited, or if they become soldiers, are refused promotion.

The defence minister has been quoted as saying that people with HIV could not "withstand difficult missions".

An estimated 11% of the population and 35% of the army is HIV-positive.

Sasfu deputy president Charles Jacobs said there was a policy of mandatory testing.

"Being HIV-negative is a pre-requisite to gain employment in SANDF [South African National Defence Force]," he said.

He also said that any HIV-positive soldiers were denied the chance to be deployed abroad and argued these policies were unconstitutional.

South Africa has peacekeepers in several countries but some, like Sudan, insist that potential peacekeepers take an Aids test before being deployed there.

The Aids Law Project, which is representing Sasfu, says employers have long tried to argue that people with HIV could not do strenuous jobs but said this was a "lame excuse".

Despite the hard line attributed to the defence minister, Deputy-President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka last year gave a different message:

"HIV-positive individuals in the military should be given every opportunity to do the tasks for which they have been trained and which they are still fit to perform," she said.

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