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Tuesday, 5 June, 2001, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Analysis: Behind CAR's coup attempt
Andre Kolingba and Ange-Felix Patasse
Lucy Jones in Bangui looks at the reasons behind former military ruler General Andre Kolingba's foiled attempt to overthrow Central African Republic President Ange-Felix Patasse on 28 May

Ambassadors celebrating Mothers' Day with the president hours before the attack, in which seven members of the presidential guard were killed, say they had no idea a coup attempt was about to take place.

President Patasse
Patasse: Does not have total control of the army
That is not to say people in this diamond and timber rich country are without grievances.

Mr Patasse has failed to pay state employees' salaries - including those of the national army - in some cases for more than 12 months. Unions brought the country to a standstill at the beginning of the year in a series of strikes called "Operation Central Africa - dead country".


Something like this can put the country back 10 years

UN representative
Tribal rivalry also remains at the heart of the CAR's political instability. Mr Kolingba's power base is in the south of the republic, home of the Yakoma people, where as President Patasse, has widespread support among the Sara in the north.

As the army has been traditionally dominated by officers from the south, Mr Patasse's position has never been fully secure.

UN involvement

UN peacekeepers, deployed in April 1998 after two years of mutiny and withdrawn in February last year, had started restructuring the army to include representatives from all tribes.

But while the presidential guard was put under the Mr Patasse's direct control, little was done to alter the composition of the 3000-strong army. "The UN could have stayed longer," said a UN source.

General  Andre Kolingba, ruler of the CAR until 1993
General Andre Kolingba: Backed by the Yakoma people from the south
Mr Patasse seems set on stamping out all opposition once and for all. He has refused to participate in peace talks proposed by Mr Kolingba and the French government, which locals fear may heighten tribal tensions in future.

"But to say this is tribal is to oversimplify the problem. We are not seeing Sara civilians killing Yakoma civilians," said a diplomat.

Backward step

But what is certain is that the comfort level for foreign involvement in the CAR has vanished since violence returned to Bangui's streets.

"Something like this can put the country back 10 years. If it goes on much longer everything we achieved since the mutinies will be destroyed," said a representative of a UN agency in Bangui.

Representatives of foreign institutions, presently holed up in the Sofitel hotel, which is now used as a mortar launching pad by government troops, are wondering what they came here for.

"I came here for macro economics. Not much chance of that now," said a representative of the African Development Bank stranded in Bangui.

It is unlikely normality will return to Bangui for several months.

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See also:

03 Jun 01 | Africa
Army occupy CAR general's house
28 May 01 | Africa
CAR 'coup attempt' fails
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