Country Report Central African Republic August 1997 Main report

Political scene: Calm briefly returns as rebels rejoin military--

French and US diplomats in Bangui were increasingly worried by the growing signs that rebels were coming to regard MISAB peacekeepers as an enemy. According to the usually well-informed Paris-based journal, Lettre du Continent, the US ambassador in Bangui, Mosina Jordan, wrote to the rebel leader, Captain Saulet, calling on him to remain committed to the peace process and not to allow occasional incidents to derail progress towards peace. This pressure seemed to have an effect: the process of reintegrating the 300 remaining rebels back into the 4,500-strong regular armed forces began as planned in early June. A number of ex-rebels were formally reintegrated into the army in a ceremony attended by the MISAB chief-of-staff, Colonel Talla Niang of Senegal, and by Captain Saulet. Meanwhile, Mr Patasse indicated that he was considering the postponement until next year of local and regional elections scheduled for August because of the current instability, although he nevertheless asked mayors to press ahead with drawing up voters' lists.

--before renewed clashes between rebels and peacekeepers

The calm did not last long. On June 20 the rebels killed a Senegalese peacekeeper, sparking a fresh round of fighting. This time, MISAB troops responded much more vigorously than in some past incidents. Within two days, the Chadian contingent in MISAB launched a violent offensive against the rebels. MISAB's commanders had clearly concluded that the apparently moderate and responsible leadership of the dissident troops was not really in control of many hot-headed elements, who seemed only too eager to engage in robbery or provocative firefights. On June 23 Chadian and Burkinabe troops, with French helicopter support, launched a heavy bombardment of the Kassai barracks, the main rebel base in the east of Bangui. In the south-west of the city Gabonese and Senegalese MISAB troops carried out a mopping-up operation, after asking civilians to move out temporarily. France publicly restated its strong support for MISAB and the African mediation effort, but was anxious not to be seen as interfering in local affairs. Its soldiers had fired at the rebels only after shells from rebel-held areas landed close to the French embassy (which happens to be near a government forces army base), the French lycee and the Sofitel hotel. The MISAB offensive appeared to have broken the back of rebel resistance; about 100 mutineers were caught by government forces as they tried to flee across the river and some were reportedly executed on the spot. However, the Kassai barracks remained in the hands of the rebels, who now offered to surrender their heavy weapons and asked for a ceasefire. Casualty numbers are necessarily hard to ascertain; but it seems that close to 100 people were killed, mainly rebels. Four MISAB troops were injured. The mediator, General Toure, negotiated a truce based on the surrender of heavy weapons and this was signed by rebel leaders on June 28 after some last-minute haggling over details. A formal ceasefire followed on July 2. But, as General Toure himself admitted, weapons were still widely distributed in Bangui. Many inhabitants remained sceptical that even the full integration of the rebels into the armed forces would ensure lasting peace. General Toure staged a reconciliation ceremony on July 9, bringing together supporters and opponents of Mr Patasse for discussions over how best to establish lasting stability.

© 1997 The Economist lntelligence Unit Ltd. All rights reserved
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