France won`t protect ex-colony from rebels
December 29, 2012
Residents of Central African Republic participate in a protest in front of the French Embassy in the capital Bangui, December 26, 2012. Hundreds of people protested outside the French Embassy in Central African Republic on Wednesday, throwing stones at the building and tearing down the French flag in anger at a rebel advance in the north of the country. Picture taken December 26, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer
BANGUI: The President of the Central African Republic called on France and other foreign powers yesterday to urgently help his government fend off rebels who are seizing territory and approaching the capital, but French officials declined to offer military assistance.
The developments suggest the CAR could be on the brink of another violent change in government, something not new in the history of this resource-rich yet deeply impoverished country. The current President, Francois Bozize, came to power nearly a decade ago in the wake of a rebellion.
Speaking to crowds in the capital, Bangui, a city of 600,000, Mr Bozize pleaded with foreign powers to do what they could, singling out France, the country`s former colonial ruler.
About 200 French soldiers are already there, providing technical support and helping to train the local army.
“France has the means to stop (the rebels) but unfortunately they have done nothing for us until now,” Mr Bozize said.
French President Francois Hollande said yesterday France wanted to protect its interests in the CAR and not Mr Bozize`s government. The comments came a day after dozens of protesters, angry about a lack of help against rebel forces, threw rocks at the French embassy in Bangui and stole a French flag.
Paris is encouraging peace talks between the government and the rebels, with the French Foreign Ministry noting in a statement that negotiations are due to ``begin shortly in Libreville (Gabon)``. It was not clear if any dates had been set for those talks.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, meanwhile, spoke via phone with Mr Bozize, asking him to take responsibility for the safety of French citizens and diplomatic missions.
US officials said yesterday the State Department would close its embassy in the country and ordered its diplomats to leave.
The UN Security Council issued a statement yesterday reiterating its concern about the situation in the country and condemned the attacks.
“The members of the Security Council reiterate their demand that the armed groups immediately cease hostilities, withdraw from captured cities and cease any further advance towards the city of Bangui,” the statement read.
The Central African Republic, a landlocked nation of 4.4 million people, is roughly the size of France. It has suffered decades of army revolts, coups and rebellions since gaining independence in 1960 and remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
© 2012 News Limited. All rights reserved.
Protecting Interests, Not Intervening in Central African Republic
Thai News Service
December 31, 2012
Residents of Central African Republic participate in a marching protest along the streets of the capital Bangui, December 21, 2012. Hundreds of people protested outside the French Embassy in Central African Republic on Wednesday, throwing stones at the building and tearing down the French flag in anger at a rebel advance in the north of the country. Picture taken December 21, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer
French President Francois Hollande says France has a presence in the Central African Republic to protect its interests and nationals, not to intervene in the country`s business.
Hollande spoke Thursday, a day after protesters critical of France`s inaction during a rebel advance in the C.A.R. threw stones at the French embassy in the capital, Bangui, and tore down the country`s flag. “Generally speaking, if we are there [in C.A.R.], it`s not to protect a regime but to protect our citizens and our interests, and not at all to interfere in domestic matters of a country, as it happens, Central African Republic,” he said. “This time is over.”
A rebel coalition called Seleka has captured about 10 towns since launching an offensive two weeks ago. They have threatened to topple C.A.R. President Francois Bozize, whom they accuse of failing to implement a 2007 peace accord that ended an earlier rebellion.
The rebel spokesman told VOA that the alliance has no backing from France nor any neighboring country.
The C.A.R. gained independence from France in 1960. France has about 250 troops in Central African Republic supporting a peacekeeping mission.
Asked whether France would intervene to help refugees, Hollande said action would only come under United Nations authorization. “We can take action if there is a mandate of the United Nations, which is not the case, but generally speaking, we are doing our best to see the civil population protected,” stated Hollande. “And preserved so once again, we will do out duty.”
The United Nations has relocated its non-essential staff in the country, while the U.S. embassy suspended its normal operations until further notice because of increasing insecurity. - VOA
© 2012 Thai News Service
Residents flee Bangui as rebels pause for talks
By Paul-Marin Ngoupana
December 28, 2012
Central African Republic President Francois Bozize (C) speaks to a crowd of supporters and anti-rebel protesters during an appeal for help, in Bangui December 27, 2012. Bozize on Thursday appealed for France and the United States to help push back rebels threatening his government and the capital, but Paris said its troops were only ready to protect French nationals. The exchanges came as regional African leaders tried to broker a ceasefire deal and as rebels said they had temporarily halted their advance on Bangui, the capital, to allow talks to take place. Picture taken December 27, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer
BANGUI, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Residents of Central African Republic`s riverside capital Bangui fled in overloaded cars and boats on Friday or stockpiled food and water as rebel forces paused at the city gates for ceasefire talks.
An insurgency has swept across much of the poverty-stricken but resource-rich former French colony since Dec. 10, posing the biggest threat yet to President Francois Bozize`s nearly 10 years in power and threatening a humanitarian crisis.
The government on Thursday urged Western powers France and the United States to help push back the rebels, though Paris said it would not use soldiers to defend Bozize`s government and Washington evacuated its embassy.
The Central African Republic is one of a number of nations in the region where U.S. Special Forces are helping local forces try to track down the Lords Resistance Army, a rebel group responsible for killing thousands of civilians across four African nations.
“Our last chance, our only chance, is dialogue with the rebels,” bus driver Jerome Lega said as he weaved through traffic in the centre of Bangui.
Scores of wooden boats piled high with baggage and people crossed the Oubangui River toward Democratic Republic of Congo on the other side, while the main road south away from rebel lines was choked with overloaded vehicles.
Those remaining said they were stockpiling food and water and praying international mediation efforts would convince the insurgents not to enter the city shooting.
“We are hoping that Bangui will not be attacked,” said Eugenie Bosso, a woman running a market stall.
In a sign of rising tensions, the government announced a ban on motorcycle taxis in Bangui after nightfall, amid suspicions rebels were using them to infiltrate the city unnoticed.
GROUNDWORK FOR PEACE TALKS
Envoys from across central Africa arrived in Bangui on Thursday to lay the groundwork for peace talks with the rebels, and regional foreign ministers were due to meet in Gabon later on Friday to discuss the crisis.
African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra said regional leaders were seeking to convince the rebels to send a delegation to Gabon`s capital Libreville to hash out a peace deal and end the crisis.
“If that is not successful, of course other options will be considered,” he told reporters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, adding central African states could provide additional troops to reinforce CAR`s army against the rebels.
A spokesman for the SELEKA rebel coalition - which said it will oust Bozize unless he honours a previous rebel peace agreement that provided payments and jobs to former fighters - said on Thursday it would halt its advance short of Bangui to allow for the mediation efforts.
A military source and an aid worker said the rebels had advanced to within 75 km (45 miles) of Bangui by late Wednesday, and a diplomatic source said they had since moved closer to the capital, effectively surrounding it.
The rebel advance has highlighted the instability of a country that has remained poor since independence from France in 1960 despite rich deposits of uranium, gold and diamonds. Average income is barely $2 a day.
French nuclear energy group Areva mines the Bakouma uranium deposit in the CAR`s south - France`s biggest commercial interest in its former colony.
The U.N. Security Council on Thursday condemned the rebel advance. Regional and Western powers have been pushing for a negotiated solution.
Neighbouring Chad has sent troops to bolster CAR`s weak army though it is unclear whether they would be enough to halt a renewed rebel assault on the capital.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was working to provide displaced people with water, sanitary facilities, and other necessities, and called on rebel and government forces to spare civilians. It said it had withdrawn eight staff for security reasons, but that 14 foreign staff remained in the country.
The SELEKA coalition brings together three former rebel groups that had largely been contained in CAR`s northwest by government forces in recent years, but with foreign backing.
Paris in 2006 defended Bozize`s government from a rebel advance using air strikes. President Francois Hollande on Thursday poured cold water on the latest request for help.
“Those days are over,” he said.
Government soldiers were deployed at strategic sites and French troops reinforced security at the French Embassy after protesters threw rocks at the building on Wednesday.
With a government that holds little sway outside the capital, some parts of the country have long endured the consequences of conflicts spilling over from troubled neighbours Chad, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
(Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa and by Tom Miles in Geneva; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Michael Roddy)
© 2012 Reuters Limited
Francois Bozize: a onetime coup leader facing rebels
December 28, 2012
In this frame grab taken from APTN footage from Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, President Francois Bozize addresses crowds, in Bangui, Central African Republic. The president of Central African Republic on Thursday urgently called on France and other foreign powers to help his government fend off rebels who are quickly seizing territory and approaching the capital Bangui. French officials, however, declined to offer any military assistance in response to the plea from Francois Bozize. (AP Photo/APTN)
Francois Bozize, the embattled president of the Central African Republic where rebels are sweeping towards the capital Bangui, himself came to power by force of arms.
The taciturn soldier known as “Boz”, 66, was trained by the country`s former French colonial masters and has a chequered history of exile, imprisonment, torture and coup bids.
After he and his troops ousted Ange-Felix Patasse in 2003, Bozize reversed a decision not to run for office and won a presidential poll in May 2005 on a promise of rebuilding the impoverished yet mineral-rich country.
He was re-elected in 2011.
Patasse was deeply unpopular by the time of his ouster, having presided over years of almost ceaseless civil discontent, strikes for unpaid wages and widespread banditry in the north.
Bozize was born on October 14, 1946, in Gabon, where his father was a paramilitary policeman under French colonial rule.
His family hails from the north of the Central African Republic and the largest ethnic group, the Gbaya.
Undertaking a military career, the young man came to the attention of the notorious Jean-Bedel Bokassa, another Central African leader who came to power in a coup.
Bokassa had himself proclaimed “emperor” and raided the coffers to his own ends.
The story goes that Bokassa first noticed Bozize when he came to blows with a French mercenary who had not shown sufficient respect to the emperor.
Under Bokassa, who was later deposed in a French-backed coup, Bozize became the Central African Republic`s youngest general, at age 32.
When Bokassa fell in 1979, Bozize lost some of his standing, but he left for France to undergo military training.
By 1981, he was back in circulation when General Andre Kolingba toppled David Dacko, who had himself overthrown Bokassa.
Bozize was to serve as defence and information minister in two successive regimes. But after taking part in an unsuccessful bid to topple Kolingba in 1982 he went into exile in neighbouring Chad and later Benin.
Benin extradited him in 1989, and he was jailed for subversion and tortured. In 1990 he narrowly escaped being murdered in his prison cell, but he was freed the following year.
In 1993, he stood as a candidate in the presidential elections that brought Patasse to power; Bozize took only one percent of the vote, a fact his detractors have made much of ever since.
Patasse nevertheless appointed him head of the country`s armed forces in 1997.
But in October 2001, he was forced to flee after a failed bid to overthrow Patasse. Bozize again crossed into Chad and from there went into exile in France under an accord reached in the Gabonese capital Libreville.
After another failed coup attempt against Patasse in October 2001, Bozize finally succeeded in seizing power two years later, marching unchallenged into Bangui while the president was on an overseas trip.
Bozize is said to lack charisma, but he presents himself as a “builder” and “patriot”, while his critics say he is mainly interested in the trappings of power.
Upon his re-election in 2011, Bozize said he hoped to rebuild the CAR by harnessing its as yet underexploited resources, in particular oil, uranium and gold.
The country has been notoriously unstable, with large areas prey to rebel movements, bandit groups and uprisings.
Most recently, fighters of the Seleka rebel coalition have taken over large parts of the country since taking up arms on December 10.
Seleka is an alliance of rebel groups who say the government has not honoured peace accords signed between 2007 and 2011 that offered financial support and other help for insurgents who laid down their arms.
© Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012 All reproduction and presentation rights reserved.