Potential Hot Spots: October 27, 2002

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Since gaining independence from France in 1960, the Central African Republic's national pastime has been a witch's brew of armed conflict, mutiny or coup attempts. Fighting in the capital, Bangui, started again around 17.00 on 25 October and continued into the next day. Rebels loyal to the deposed army chief of staff Francois Bozize fought President Ange-Felix Patasse's 800-strong personal guard and Libyan troops for control of the city's airport. About 200 Libyan soldiers are in the Central African Republic, overseeing Patasse's security since the failed May 2001 coup.

The rebels are based across the CAR's northern border in Chad and used confiscated civilian vehicles to travel south, attacking several towns on the 25th, enroute to Bangui. The state-run radio has been off the air since later that day and the capital's only private broadcaster (Radio Ndeke-Luka) was reporting that the rebels appear to have control of the northern-third of the city. 

Most of the CAR's 3,500-strong army was nowhere in sight, while a nephew of the president and four members of his presidential guard were killed in the fighting. There were also unconfirmed reports that Jean-Pierre Bemba's Movement for Congolese Liberation (MLC) had joined forces with the presidential guard and the Libyans to protect Patasse. This Congolese rebel group is based across the river in Gbadolite, northern DRCongo.

Residents claim that many of the assailants had long beards and were in civilian cloths, with bandanas and armbands to identify themselves to each other. The fighting has been described as periods of intense small arms fire, followed by lulls while both sides reload. Two French gendarmes were briefly held hostage on the 26th.

One cause of the latest fighting is the 28 May 2001 coup d'etat attempt. The trial of some 700 defendants accused of plotting to oust Patasse opened on 22 August. At the beginning of October, a Bangui criminal court handed down sentences ranging from one year in prison to 10 years' hard labor against 30 people, most of them members of the armed forces, for "the crime of conspiracy and for desertion in time of war." Another 48 defendants were also acquitted for insufficient evidence. Around 615 of the accused were tried in absentia, having fled CAR after the abortive coup. Among those tried in absentia was former president Andre Kolingba, accused of being the mastermind of the failed putsch.

Two days before this most-recent bout of fighting, Bozize unexpectedly showed up in France (of all places). Bozize had fled to neighboring Chad in November 2001, to avoid being questioned about the abortive coup against Patasse and ever since then, tensions had steadily grown. Patesse accused Ndjamena of ignoring Bozize's cross-border raids into the CAR and to defuse the situation, Chadanian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had agreed to resettle Bozize's resettlement in Algeria. Patasse even met the French ambassador posted to Bangui, to discuss Bozize. By legitimizing Bozize's move to the metropolitan mainland, this may indicate that France is tacitly approving action against Libyan expansionist moves across Africa. - Adam Geibel



 

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