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Wednesday, 30 May, 2001, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
CAR: Plagued by mutinies
Felix Patasse
Mr Patasse's position has never been fully secure
By Lucy Jones in Bangui

With a reputation for political stability, a mild climate and beautiful scenery, the Central African Republic was once fondly referred to as "La Coquette".

Yacht-owners lined up to dock their boats in the capital Bangui's harbour while holiday makers flew in from Paris to hunt this former French colony's rich supply of game.

But mutinies in recent years, including Monday's coup attempt, means this diamond and timber rich country has lost much of its charm.

"Bangui the coquette has become Bangui the racket," said Atniel Levy, an Israeli hotel owner, whose rooms are usually empty.

Mutinies

Between 1996 and 1997 the CAR suffered four army mutinies, headed by former president André Kolingba, who ruled the country between 1981 to 1993.

Several thousand civilians lost their lives and the city was destroyed.

In April 1998 the United Nations deployed Minurca (Mission of the United Nations in the Central African Republic) to bring calm to the capital. The mission, which was made up of more than 1,300 personnel, was withdrawn in February last year.

Andre Kolingba
Mr Kolingba's power base is in the south
An objective of the mission was to reform the army to include representatives from the country's different tribes.

But tribal rivalry remains at the heart of the CAR's political instability.

Mr Kolingba's power base is in the south of the republic, whereas the current president, Félix Patasse, has widespread support in the north. As the army has been traditionally dominated by officers from the south, Mr Patasse's position has never been fully secure.

Guns and troops

The presidential guard of 500 troops was put under the president's direct control. But little was done to alter the composition of the 3000-strong army.

David Dacko
Mr Dacko overthrew the 'emperor' with French support
"Frankly speaking, the reform didn't go far enough, and that's why the government are facing problems at the moment," said Dr Azmy Khalifah, the Egyptian ambassador in Bangui.

War in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo means weapons are easy to come by in Bangui.

In 1981 Mr Kolingba had overthrown David Dacko, who with French support, had ousted the self-styled emperor, Jean-Bedel Bokassa in 1979.

The emperor's 13-year reign was one of the most brutal and sordid in Africa's history. But he built roads and the sports stadium, established the university and attracted foreign investors.

Jean-Bédel Bokassa
Self-styled emperor Bokassa was a harsh ruler
"He is a controversial figure. Under Bokassa life was stable but he was known to be a harsh ruler," said Albertine Dounia, head of the national museum in Bangui.

The Central African Republic gained independence from the French in 1960, led by Bartelemy Boganda's Movement for Social Evolution in Black Africa. A year later Boganda was killed in an aeroplane crash. He remains a national hero.

See also:

28 Mar 01 | Africa
30 May 01 | Africa
28 May 01 | Africa
23 May 01 | Country profiles
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