CAR: New leader consolidates power, France sends troops

BANGUI, 18 March (IRIN) - The leader of the coup in the Central African Republic (CAR), Francois Bozize, met army and police chiefs on Monday in an attempt to impose law and order in the capital.
"Our top priority is the capital's security," Parfait Mbaye, Bozize's spokesman, told IRIN.

Mbaye added that there was "no animosity" between the leaders of ousted President Ange-Felix Patasse's security forces and the new administration, and that many soldiers, gendarmes and policemen had resumed their duties.

However, the looting that started when Bozize's fighters entered Bangui and overthrew the government on Saturday continued through Monday. Youths armed with weapons stolen from Patasse's official home bound their heads with turbans, to look like Chadians, and went on looting sprees, targeting vehicles and other property. The ousted government had often accused Chad of supporting Bozize.

In a communique on state-owned Radio Centrafrique, Bozize, the CAR former army chief of staff, promised that searches would be carried out to "unmask the thieves and other looters" who had pillaged the capital after the coup. Eight alleged looters were shot dead by soldiers on Monday in various suburbs of Bangui.

Offices, schools and shops remained closed on Tuesday, despite Bozize's call for a resumption of normal activities. Looters also gutted petrol stations, making transport more difficult.

Meanwhile, 150 French soldiers, redeployed from the Gabonese capital, Libreville, arrived in Bangui on Monday. They were the first of 300 troops sent by France to evacuate French nationals and to secure the main M'poko airport, AFP reported. Sixty French women and children were flown to Gabon on a French army plane on Sunday, the French foreign ministry said. Around 100 French nationals have taken refuge at the French embassy in Bangui, while others gathered at various sites after their homes were looted.

Bozize, who was until the coup in exile in France, has called on Paris and member states of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community to send more troops to help stabilise his country.

The African Union (AU) has condemned the coup and called for the reinstatement of Patasse's democratically elected government. The AU's Central Organ of the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution in the African Union has recommended CAR's suspension from the continental body.


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