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Monday, 18 June, 2001, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
France accused over CAR coup attempt
President Patasse
President Patasse: Angry with France for supplying weapons
By Lucy Jones in Bangui

The Central African Republic's President, Ange-Felix Patasse, has accused France of "complicity" in last month's failed coup attempt but said without help from Libya, the bloodshed would have continued longer.


Ask France not to send weapons to kill the people

President Patasse
Speaking to foreign journalists for the first time since rebel soldiers nearly killed him, President Patasse condemned "the neo-colonialist France which sent these arms, and which sent officers and mercenaries to kill the Central African people".

"These are the weapons we found at Kolingba's house," he said, indicating boxes of weapons bearing the French flag displayed in the garden of his residence, where my interview with him took place.

He also pointed to a metal gate, 10m from his front door, which bore the marks of hundreds of bullets.

French arms

Appearing angry rather than shaken, Mr Patasse said when asked how he would prevent further unrest: "Ask France not to send weapons to kill the people."

General  Andre Kolingba, ruler of the CAR until 1993
General Andre Kolingba: Backed by the Yakoma people from the south
The situation would remain calm, "if France decides not to favour the coup d'etat by sending arms," he added.

The government said previously that the French arms were destined for the country's paramilitary gendarmerie but were mysteriously diverted to Andre Kolingba, the former president, who admitted he was behind the coup attempt.

Denial

But France denied any role in the rebel attacks.

French foreign ministry spokesman, Francois Rivasseau, told Radio France International: "What is clear is that rumours or allegations according to which France could have played a role in the sparking off of the coup attempt are totally groundless."

He said: "France immediately condemned the coup attempt... From the beginning we urged the rebels to give up,"

Mr Patasse called for an international tribunal to ascertain who exactly was behind the bid to oust him from office.

"He seems to be sure that the French have something to do with the coup. He's pushing hard for an international investigation," said a diplomat based in Bangui.

Praise for Libya

While Libyan soldiers continue to guard Bangui's main avenue with tanks, President Patasse thanked Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, for coming to his aid.


We congratulate the Libyans for sending us a force rapidly to defend us, otherwise the fight would have continued longer

President Patasse
"We congratulate the Libyans for sending us a force rapidly to defend us, otherwise the fight would have continued longer," he said, denying this was part of any scheme by Libya to extend its influence in central Africa.

"Libya is an African country. President Gaddafi is a personal friend... and it was at my request that he sent a small team to support us. It was I who asked," Patasse continued, adding that Gaddafi ordered Libyan troops to supply the French ambassador with food during the coup.

Ethnic problems

Kolingba is a Yakoma from the south whose 12-year rule ended in 1993 when Patasse beat him in a multi-party election to become the first northerner to rule the country.

The army has traditionally been dominated by southerners and Patasse accepted that this was a problem, stoked by Kolingba.

"Don't confuse Kolingba and the army," he said. "Kolingba transformed the army into something ethnic. I am trying to correct this, to return the army to its true mission, which is the army of the whole republic, a multi-ethnic army."

However, Patasse rejected accusations that loyalists are hunting down Yakomas for reprisals, or that Rwandan immigrants had been targeted after government allegations that two Rwandan generals were involved in the attempted putsch.

The loyalist troops need to search civilians because Kolingba had used civilians in his coup attempt, Patasse said, dismissing talk of ethnic cleansing as rebel propaganda.

"When they say we execute this is a lie," he said.

DR Congo

Patasse also denied that his relationship with the Democratic Republic of Congo had been soured by his request for military assistance from Jean Pierre Bemba, the rebel leader controlling the country's northern Equatorial region, which shares a border with the CAR.

"I asked Bemba to help me for the honour of my people. This doesn't change the fight that I carry out for the reconciliation of the Congolese people," he said.

"The actions of Bemba are actions of solidarity but I continue to say you have to go to the negotiating table," he said.

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See also:

15 Jun 01 | Africa
Executions keep Bangui tense
12 Jun 01 | Africa
UN steps into CAR ethnic tension
03 Jun 01 | Africa
Army occupy CAR general's house
28 May 01 | Africa
CAR 'coup attempt' fails
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