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CAR: Chad sends troops, France says coup ''absolutely unacceptable''

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BANGUI, 20 March (IRIN) - Chad sent 100 soldiers to the Central African Republic (CAR) on Wednesday to reinforce the Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States (CEMAC) forces, Parfait Mbaye, the spokesman for Francois Bozize, the leader of the 15 March coup, told IRIN that day.
Also on Wednesday, Radio France International (RFI) reported that France had pledged to keep its 300-strong troop contingent in the CAR capital, Bangui, "for as long as possible".

"They are coming to boost the CEMAC forces," Mbaye said of the Chadian troops, adding that the final size of the Chadian contingent was yet to be established.

The Chadian troops, who were not wearing CEMAC badges, but were dressed in their national army uniform, patrolled central Bangui on Thursday. They set up two roadblocks where they checked the identification of the few motorists on the roads.

In an interview on RFI on Wednesday, the French minister of state for cooperation, Pierre-Andre Wiltzer, said the French troops would remain in Bangui "until the situation becomes somewhat stable".

He added: "I am saying it again - and the French government said it officially - that this country has fallen victim to a military coup. And as far as we are concerned, this situation is absolutely unacceptable," Wiltzer said, adding that France was working with CEMAC to "do everything possible to restore calm and democratic normalcy" in the CAR.

Wiltzer said democracy in the CAR would be achieved through national dialogue, and that efforts must be made urgently to make the dialogue possible.

Regional heads of state established the CEMAC force in October 2002. The force was to comprise troops from Gabon, the Republic of Congo (ROC), Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and Mali, which is not a CEMAC member.

As Chad and the CAR were parties to the conflict, they were not authorised to contribute troops to the force, whose mission was to protect former President Ange-Felix Patasse, now in Cameroon, monitor the securing of the CAR-Chad border and restructure the army.

"This [the arrival of the Chadians] is not a violation of the heads of state's decision," Mbaye told IRIN.

The deployment of the Chadian troops came in response to a call by Bozize, who has declared himself CAR president, to Chad to contribute troops to the CEMAC force.

Patasse's administration had accused Chad of supporting Bozize in his bid to overthrow the government. Speaking on Africa No.1 Radio on Wednesday, Chadian Foreign Minister Moktar Wawa Dahab said the deployment of the troops was in response to a request by CEMAC. Dahab added that the contingent would also protect Chadian nationals living in the CAR, who, he said numbered about one million.

"The upholding of the CEMAC force is established as granted, but the force's mandate will be revised to deal more with the restructuring [of the army] and disarmament," Mbaye said.

During their visit to Bangui on Tuesday, the foreign ministers of Gabon and the ROC announced that a CEMAC extraordinary summit was scheduled in the ROC capital, Brazzaville, on Thursday. Mbaye said Bozize had not been invited to the summit.

"It is during that summit that a decision will be taken about the future of the [CEMAC] force," Augustin Bibaye, the CEMAC force's spokesman, told IRIN on Tuesday.

According to Mbaye, former top officials in Patasse's government, whose homes had been looted, were hiding in the French, Chadian and Nigerian embassies and in the UN Peace-building Office in the CAR. The whereabouts of former Prime Minister Martin Ziguele remain unknown.

He said Bozize had on Tuesday met Abel Goumba, who represented a coalition of CAR politicians. Bozize was also scheduled to meet the leaders of Patasse's Mouvement de liberation du peuple centrafricain in an effort to put in place a national unity transitional government, Mbaye said.

Meanwhile, gunshots from Zongo town, situated across the Oubangui river in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from Bangui, were heard on late Tuesday into Wednesday. Bangui residents, as well as Bozize's supporters, fear an attack from northern DRC, where rebel leader Jean Pierre Bemba's troops are based. Bemba's troops have until recently been supporting Patasse's administration - ever since October 2002.

Analysts see the presence of Chadian troops in the CAR as a means of dissuading Bemba from attacking. Bemba's troops were patrolling the DRC side of the Oubangui river on Wednesday. "If our country is attacked, then we will defend it," Bozize said on Television Centrafricaine the same day.

Meanwhile, schools, petrol stations, banks and administrative offices in Bangui remain closed on Thursday. A number of shops, guarded by armed men believed to be Chadians, reopened on Tuesday. There were no signs of looting on Wednesday and Thursday.

[ENDS]

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