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Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 11:19 GMT
CAR's foreign troops raise questions
MLC rebel soldiers
Congolese rebel soldiers in Bangui are unpopular

Forced to flee the Central African Republic's latest round of fighting, residents from the capital Bangui's northern suburbs are returning to find rebel Congolese officers living in their homes.

Tensions mounted further recently after a Congolese rebel truck reportedly knocked down three children.

Police fired shots into the air for three hours before inhabitants dismantled the roadblocks they erected after the accident.

Pro-government troops
Libyan 200-300
Sudanese 50
Djiboutian 39
Congolese (MLC) upwards of 1000
Cemac 200
Bozize-led Rebels 100-200
Chadians - unspecified number
Living on either side of the Oubangui River, the Congolese and Central Africans have traditionally been amicable neighbours.

But that changed in October when the CAR's army chief Francois Bozize staged yet another coup against the government.

Congolese MLC rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, who controls much of northern Democratic Republic of Congo, sent troops to shore up CAR President Ange-Felix Patasse.

Supporters of Mr Bozize still control a third of the country.

Congolese troops are fighting alongside the government's troops in the frontline of the ongoing battles outside the capital against Mr Bozize's rebels.

The Congolese suffered a high number of casualties on Saturday when they helped loyalist forces retake the town of Damara, 75 kilometres north of Bangui, from the rebels.

But the population fears the 1,000-strong Congolese force.

"They have been accused of raping children and women," a Bangui resident told BBC News Online.


"The Congolese in Bangui are traditionally the shoe shiners. People say they know where the rich people live, and are guiding the troops to their houses to loot," he added.

But many of the 10,000 Congolese civilians living in the CAR say they are terrified because of a backlash against them since the troops arrived.

Some have been beaten while the UN refugee agency UNHCR arranged for many Congolese refugees to return home.

Jean-Pierre Bemba
Bemba is now a player in the CAR
But Mr Bemba and CAR president have a mutually beneficial relationship and so the troops may stay.

The importance of Bangui airport to the Congolese rebels as an entry point for weapons and stocks has redoubled since Uganda pledged to withdraw its assistance to Mr Bemba in recent peace deals to end the DR Congo conflict.

For the impoverished landlocked CAR, the Oubangui River which runs through the rebel-held territory provides a vital link to the outside world and must be kept open at all costs, which requires Mr Bemba's co-operation.

The CAR is awash with foreign troops, and their numbers are likely to increase to help the democratically-elected Mr Patasse serve until the end of his term in 2005.

Cemac troops

Last week, around 200 Gabonese troops arrived under the umbrella of the Economic and Monetary Community of the Central African States (Cemac) and more are due to come.

Widely regarded by the population as an impartial force, they will have a peacekeeping role, although protecting the presidency and monitoring the border between the CAR and Chad is also part of their mandate.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi
Gaddafi may withdraw Libyan troops from CAR
President Omar Bongo of Gabon has stepped up involvement in the CAR's internal affairs, especially since May 2001 when Libya sent troops to assist Mr Patasse in an earlier failed coup attempt.

There are still between 200-300 Libyan soldiers stationed in Bangui, and there are conflicting reports as to whether they will be withdrawn now the Cemac troops have arrived.

The country's relationship with Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi continues to be controversial.

The Libyans bombed rebel positions in October which alienated the population.

The opposition accuses the president of signing away the country's diamond and oil resources in return for the Libyan force, which has allowed him to cling onto power, a claim the government denies.

The question of whether or not Chad participated in October's fighting is still unanswered.

Chadian question

CAR accuses Chad of assisting the rebels and is lodging an official complaint against its neighbour at the United Nations, although President Idris Deby has repeatedly denied his country's involvement in the attacks.

Meanwhile, Mr Patasse ordered a census of the Chadians living in the CAR, a move criticised by human rights lawyers.

"We will see who was sent by President Deby and who is a friend of the CAR," he said on national radio.

Just before the rebel attacks in October, the CAR's prime minister was finalising a loan with the World Bank while the parliament was passing an investor-friendly mining law to attract foreign companies.

All that has been put on hold.

Meanwhile CAR's allies and enemies are shaping the country in the absence of a strong government and loyal army.

The BBC's Joseph Benamsse on Network Africa
"President Patasse will do all he can for the Libyans to stay"
Central African Republic

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See also:

01 Nov 02 | Africa
28 Oct 02 | Africa
28 Oct 02 | Africa
23 Oct 02 | Africa
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