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Thursday, 31 October, 2002, 13:38 GMT
Diamonds fuel CAR conflicts
Former chief of staff Francois Bozize
General Bozize's forces are fighting for power

Forces loyal to President Ange-Felix Patasse have regained control of Central African Republic's capital Bangui from rebels who had captured areas of the city.

In the ninth coup attempt or full-scale mutiny since independence in 1960, the rebels loyal to a former army chief of staff, General Francois Bozize, have been trying to wrest the levers of power from the elected president.

Government troops supported by their Libyan allies now seem to have them on the run.

CAR's President Ange Felix Patasse
President Patasse has survived numerous coups attempts

As in many of the other uprisings in CAR's history, there has been significant foreign involvement from a variety of governments and movements.

The Libyans and, allegedly, members of the rebel Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) support the president, while there have been reports of Chadian nationals and white mercenaries supporting General Bozize.

The Chadian government has denied any involvement.

The general is currently in exile in France, having flown there from Chad, and the French government has said it will not allow him to work to destabilise CAR from French territory.

But why are so many foreign forces involved in CAR - a relatively small and seemingly unimportant, landlocked state ?

The simple and, in African terms, all too frequent answer is diamonds.

They make up 54% of CAR's exports and have been a major source of conflict and corruption since independence.

The CAR is also believed to have commercially exploitable oil deposits and also uranium, neither of which are currently mined.

The country also sits in a volatile region. Four of the five countries which border it have or have had their own violent conflicts in recent decades - Congo (Brazzaville), Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.

Empire state

The CAR's first and most bitter taste of military rule started in 1965, when the army commander, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, overthrew President David Dacko.

General Bokassa declared himself president for life and then emperor of the renamed Central African Empire.

Later, after his violent overthrow, the self-styled emperor was imprisoned in CAR on charges of murder and embezzlement.

For much of his time in power, Bokassa was supported by the French, who retained a major strategic and economic stake in the country.

Since his political demise and the development of violent conflicts in Chad and DR Congo, CAR, too, has become the scene for regional rivalries to be played out.

At various times, the French and the Libyans have competed for influence over the government and access to minerals or prospecting rights.

Having backed Jean-Bedel Bokassa for years, the French assisted David Dacko in overthrowing him in 1979.

Two years later, he was then overthrown by the army commander, Andre Kolingba, who remains a factor in the country's military and political equations.

In recent years, Chad and Libya have supported President Patasse against his opponents and both France and the United Nations have sent troops to the country to try to maintain the peace after coup attempts or army mutinies.

President Patasse was elected president in 1993 and then re-elected in 1997, though there were allegations of vote rigging and intimidation in the latter vote.

Libya v France

Although CAR was not dragged into the decades of civil war in neighbouring Chad, the conflict did have its effects on the country.

France and Libya were on opposing sides in the Chadian war and had troops deployed in the country in support of the factions they backed.

As a neighbouring state, centrally-located, CAR became the scene of another competition for a sphere of influence between Tripoli and Paris.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi
Gaddafi has sent troops to back Patasse

And in its own right, the country had sufficient diamonds and evidence of oil and uranium deposits to make it a valuable sphere in which to compete for influence.

Libya supported President Patasse when another coup attempt took place in May 2001 and Colonel Gaddafi's troops stayed in CAR.

In June this year, the Patasse government reportedly gave Libya rights to prospect for and exploit oil, uranium and other mineral resources.

Now, Libya is helping its ally to fight for his political life - and by extension, Libya's ability to cash in on the deal.

But in the CAR, whoever is up today could be down tomorrow and today's loser could be the winner again tomorrow.

So it is unlikely that the current fight for power will be the last.

Central African Republic

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See also:

30 Oct 02 | Africa
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