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Joseph Benamse, BBC correspondent in Bangui
The situation is still tense
 real 28k

Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Civilians flee Bangui fighting
Bangui protestors
There have been a series of protests in Bangui
Residents of the Central African Republic's capital, Bangui, have been fleeing continuing fighting between the presidential guard and rebellious soldiers.

The authorities had said on Monday that they had the city under control, following what was described as a coup attempt against President Ange-Felix Patasse carried out by disgruntled soldiers.


But reports from the city say thousands of civilians have been fleeing the southern districts of Bangui, where troops loyal to the president have carried out mopping up operations against rebel soldiers.

The CAR's recent political history has been marred by instability, and there were three army mutinies in the late 1990s.

Our correspondent said that fearful-looking families, clutching mattresses, buckets and other household goods, have crossed armed checkpoints set up across Bangui to get away from the shooting.

They have been heading either to outlying villages or to the north of the city controlled by the government.

Mutineers

The rebellious soldiers come from a special unit within the national army, which is mostly made up of army mutineers from 1996 and 1997 mutinies.

President Patasse
President Patasse was elected in 1993 after 12 years of military rule
Armed with automatic weapons and mortars they attacked the president's residence early on Monday in what the authorities called an unsuccessful coup attempt.

Medical sources have confirmed that 12 people have so far been killed in the fighting, but the presidential guard says many more rebels have been killed.

President Patasse declared a curfew on Monday.

The trouble comes after months of demonstrations against Mr Patasse over the failure to pay civil service salaries.

History of tension

The southern areas of the capital are populated largely by ethnic groups from the south of the republic. They have long had grievances against Mr Patasse, who comes from the north.

This is almost a carbon copy of events that unfolded in 1996 when southern troops mutinied against the head of state.

On that occasion France sent in military forces to evacuate foreign nationals and to intervene on the side of Mr Patasse.

United Nations troops sent to Bangui to prevent a repetition of the unrest were only withdrawn last year.

It appears that Mr Patasse has yet to find a way to unite his ethnically divided army and country.

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See also:

28 May 01 | Africa
CAR 'coup attempt' fails
23 May 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Central African Republic
20 Dec 00 | Africa
Uneasy calm on Bangui streets
11 Sep 99 | Africa
CAR presidential poll postponed
10 Sep 99 | Africa
CAR president survives air crash
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