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Monday, 7 October, 2002, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
CAR ex-minister acquitted in coup trial
Jean-Jacques Demafouth with wife Darlan
A total of 680 people were tried for the attempted coup
The former defence minister of the Central African Republic, Jean-Jacques Demafouth, has been acquitted of charges of conspiracy against the regime at the time of the attempted coup last year.

Thirty of Mr Demafouth's co-defendants, mostly former members of the armed forces, were handed down sentences ranging from one year in prison to 10 years' hard labour.

CAR's general chief prosecutor, Joseph Bindoumi
The maximum sentence for coup plotters is death

Another 48 were cleared with Mr Demafouth because, the judge said, there was not enough evidence against them.

A total of 680 people were put on trial in August, most of them in their absence, in connection with the attempted coup which claimed at least 59 lives.

Exile

Only 69 of those accused were present when the trial opened.

Many people who were called before the tribunal had fled the country, claiming that the trial would not to be fair.

Most of the accused were from the same Yakoma tribe as the presumed coup leader, a former president, Andre Kolingba, whose whereabouts are not known.

Tens of thousands of Yakoma fled the capital following the coup attempt, after extra-judicial killings of members of their tribe.

Death

Mr Kolingba was sentenced to death in August, along with 21 other coup plotters, including three of Kolingba's sons.

About 600 other defendants were handed harsh sentences at the time.

The court case was a result of a special inquiry committee into the coup established last year by the President Ange-Felix Patasse.

The committee, which finished the investigation in December, proved controversial.

Pardon

The refusal by the former army chief, General Francois Bozize, to answer the commission's questions last November sparked a stand-off between the former general and President Patasse.

President Ange Felix Patasse
General Bozize was pardoned by President Patasse

General Bozize fled to neighbouring Chad, but legal proceedings were inexplicably dropped against him a few months ago.

The commission was also deemed unconstitutional by opposition politicians, who called for the trial to be abolished.

'Fair trial'

However, a United Nations official at the trial, Mamadi Diakite, gave the commission the benefit of the doubt.

"We hope this will be a fair trial and that full legal procedures will be followed," Mr Diakite told the BBC when the trial first opened in February.

The trial was then postponed several times for legal reasons. P> The maximum sentence for undermining state security in the Central African Republic is the death penalty.

However, this punishment has not been passed by any court in the country since 1980.

See also:

15 Feb 02 | Africa
04 Feb 02 | Africa
05 Nov 01 | Africa
30 May 01 | Africa
29 May 01 | Africa
09 Nov 01 | Country profiles
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