CAR: Envoys of regional community meet coup leader

BANGUI, 19 March (IRIN) - The special envoys of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States (CEMAC), Jean Ping and Rudolph Adada, met on Tuesday the new leader of the Central African Republic, Francois Bozize, for consultations on last week's coup.
"They [Ping and Adada] had two missions: to assess the state of the CEMAC force after the recent events and to seek Bozize's point of view on what happened," Col Augustin Bibaye, the CEMAC peacekeeping force spokesman, told IRIN on Tuesday.

Ping and Adada are the foreign affairs ministers respectively of Gabon and the Republic of Congo (ROC).

Bibaye said that in view of the situation evolving in the CAR, the CEMAC heads of state, who on Thursday are to hold an extraordinary summit on the country's situation, needed to hear at first hand from Bozize. Bibaye said Bozize had not been invited to that summit, whose venue is yet to be fixed. "It is during that summit that a decision will be taken about the future of the [CEMAC] force," Bibaye said.

With strength of 303 men, the CEMAC force had been mandated by the regional organisation to protect former President Ange-Felix Patasse - now in neighbouring Cameroon, monitor the securing of the CAR-Chad border, and restructure the CAR army. Patasse was overthrown on Saturday while attending a meeting outside his country.

Bozize has asked the CEMAC force and the 300 French soldiers sent to protect their nationals to stay and help stabilise the country. This, as well as Bozize's demand that the CEMAC force include a Chadian contingent, is to be examined at the CEMAC summit on Thursday. Chadian mercenaries have supported Bozize's fighters. Africa No.1 Radio, a Gabonese private broadcaster, announced that Chad had agreed to send a military contingent the capital, Bangui, to reinforce the CEMAC force.

Three ROC CEMAC soldiers died in the weekend's fighting at Bangui M'poko Airport. Their bodies were flown to Libreville, the Gabonese capital, for the onward journey home. Bibaye said that also one Gabonese, one Equatorial Guinean and two Congolese soldiers had been slightly wounded. As for the presence of French troops, Bibaye said the CEMAC force had not received any "precise information about their mission". Before being flown to Bangui, the CEMAC force was trained and equipped by France at its Libreville military base.

Bozize has yet to form a government, although he has had "political talks" with the Convention des partis politiques d'opposition, an alliance of 12 opposition parties, in an effort to put in place a consensual transitional administration.

Meanwhile, schools, banks and administrative offices reopened on Tuesday. Some shops, which were guarded by armed men believed to be Chadians, also reopened. There are very few vehicles on the streets, because petrol stations have remained shut. Looting has stopped.

The whereabouts of Prime Minister Martin Ziguele and his officials remain unknown. Some 40 people, including leading MPs of Patasse's party, the Mouvement pour la liberaton du peuple centrafricain, and their families and relatives, have sought refuge in the Nigerian embassy in Bangui, which is providing them with food.


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