Country Report Central African Republic August 1997 Main report

Political scene: Government claims Mobutuists have joined the rebels

On May 22, two days after the government recognised Laurent Kabila's new regime in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), officials claimed that refugees loyal to the ousted president, Mobutu Sese Seko, had fled across the Oubangui river and joined the forces of the army mutineers, an accusation promptly denied by the rebels. According to Mr Patasse's office, the rebels were recruiting foreigners in Petevo and Ouango (two Bangui districts under rebel control) and in Mobaye, which is just over the border from Gbadolite, the home village of the former Zairean president. Certainly, some 5,000-10,000 refugees from the former Zaire, and from Burundi, have fled into the CAR, where they have been housed in camps set up by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). However, the accuracy of the government's allegations is difficult to ascertain. Behind the claims lies the longstanding wariness of Mr Patasse, who is from the north-west, towards the Yakoma tribe from the southern river valley, to which Mr Kolingba and many of the mutineers belong. The Yakoma do have kinship links with inhabitants of northern former Zaire and Mr Mobutu is a cousin of Mr Kolingba. However, the former CAR president has been scrupulous in his public show of loyalty towards the country's new democracy and it seems unlikely that he harbours thoughts of a putsch. He is well aware that his own regime is not especially popular and of the risk that, should he abandon his commitment to peaceful politics, he might find himself on trial for the abuses that occurred under his rule. By early June, the number of refugees from Congo had reached 52,000, but the government appeared to back away from its earlier claims that some had joined the rebels. Attending the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit in Harare, Mr Patasse said that no members of Mr Mobutu's presidential guard had entered the CAR and that the refugees had not been armed. Mr Patasse nevertheless insisted he wanted good relations with the new authorities in Kinshasa.

© 1997 The Economist lntelligence Unit Ltd. All rights reserved
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