Potential Hot Spots: Central African Republic

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February 26. 2006: For the last six months, northwestern CAR (Central African Republic) has gone into Mad Max Mode, with groups of armed men wandering the area, raiding villages, looting, raping and generally causing mayhem. The army and police have largely been absent. Last month, the army, aided by contingents from CEMAC (a trade group of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon) and France (in the form of some helicopters). Most of the bandits fled, but some were trapped and were killed. A few were arrested. All this activity sent thousands of civilians fleeing, with at least 4,000 crossing the border into Chad.

CAR is torn by a tribal conflict, since November 2001, when former CAR Army Chief of Staff General Francois Bozize and his supporters fled to Chad after fighting broke out in CAR's capital Bangui. Libya provided troops for two years, to help keep the new government secure. But in 2003, took over from the unpopular Ange-Félix Patassé. Sort of. Patassé supporters, and people who simply opposed Bozize, or government in general, have gotten guns, and an attitude that they are a law unto themselves. Northwestern CAR was always a lawless place, made worse by years of civil war in nearby Chad, and heavy poaching activity from nearby Sudan.

The area is sparsely populated, dry and lightly policed. Smugglers and nomads move about, and have always carried weapons for protection. Since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, the area has been flooded by cheap weapons, especially AK-47s, RPGs and light machine-guns. The current disorder in CAR, and the inability to suppress it, is an all too common state of affairs in this part of the world. Although Bozize has run elections, democracy does not automatically overcome tribalism. The unrest in the border area between CAR, Chad and Sudan has been been going on for a long, long time. It's not likely to go away any time soon, but it is also unlikely to rise above the level of civil disorder and banditry.

 

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