Durable stability remains an elusive prospect in the Central African Republic. It is now clear that the wave of mutinies which began more than a year ago tapped into much wider ethnic and political antagonisms than the initial complaints about pay and conditions might have suggested. An originally narrow dispute involving just a few hundred people has become the expression of a generalised disenchantment with the president, Ange- Felix Patasse, and his failure to bring about steady economic growth and prosperity. Recent months have brought persistent reminders of the fragility of a peace accord built around the award of ministerial portfolios to officers sympathetic to the grievances of the mutineers. On April 12 the defence minister, Pascal Kado, only escaped a kidnap attempt by armed men in Bangui's Kouanga district thanks to the resistance put up by his aide de camp. Just days earlier, newspaper claims that the rebel leaders, Captain Anicet Saulet and Lieutenant Parfait Mbaye, might be bribed into accepting exile provoked outbursts of firing from their Kassai barracks stronghold. Both men, and the African mediator in the CAR, the respected former Malian head of state, General Amadou Toumani Toure, denied the claims. Meanwhile, some rebel soldiers complained that they were not being properly consulted about the timetable for their reintegration into the armed forces, while Mr Patasse, in a private meeting with fellow heads of state at regional summit of the Union douaniere et economique de l'Afrique centrale (UDEAC) regional summit in Brazzaville on April 9, accused "certain circles in France" of trying to destabilise his regime.
--despite initial optimism--
The following days saw useful progress towards reducing tensions. For example, on April 23 there was a reconciliation meal between rebels and the Chadian peacekeepers whom they had attacked in March. On April 28 the junior minister responsible for army reform and a rebel sympathiser, General Didier Ndayen, announced a detailed timetable for reintegration of the mutineers into regular military units: the process would last until May 16, and a specific date was given for each unit's integration. The rebel spokesman, Parfait Mbaye, indicated agreement with this timetable; indeed, some soldiers had already returned to barracks (2nd quarter 1997). According to one opinion poll, 86% of the population thought that Mr Patasse's policy towards the rebels would encourage reconciliation, while 62% regarded the coalition administration of Michel Gbezera-Bria, the prime minister, as fundamentally a "good government".
--as tensions persist and violence returns
Continuing unease in Bangui was, however, only too evident. In the current mood of suspicion and uncertainty, the moves towards compromise and reintegration were not enough to stabilise a fundamentally unstable situation. Lieutenant Mbaye claimed that his men were still being threatened and harrassed by the Patasse loyalists of the presidential guard. April 30 brought a hint of troubles to come, with the murder of a senior presidential security guard. A former rebel was arrested over the killing, provoking other mutineers into briefly re-erecting street barricades until the authorities conceded his release on bail. Then, on May 3, the barricades went up again in south-western districts of Bangui around Petevo--a rebel stronghold--after government forces shot dead three mutineers, who had apparently been disarmed by peacekeepers of the Mission inter-africaine de surveillance des accords de Bangui (MISAB). Lieutenant Mbaye dismissed fears that mutineers were planning an attack on central Bangui and called for calm. His stance gave the distinct impression that he and Captain Saulet were no longer in effective control of many of the rebels. The discipline and sense of common purpose evident among the mutineers in earlier months seemed to have crumbled, and the leadership were clearly no longer able to prevent random acts of violence and robbery by many of the discontented troops.