CAR president admits rights abuses by gov't forces

Report
from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 26 Oct 2007
By Ingrid Melander

BRUSSELS, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Central African Republic's president acknowledged on Friday that government soldiers had committed abuses while fighting northern rebels, but said measures had been taken to punish those responsible.

Human Rights Watch last month accused the country's security forces, especially the presidential guard, of killing hundreds of civilians and forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes in continuing anti-rebel operations across the north since 2005.

"In every case of rebellion, there are abuses, I cannot deny that, there are abuses," President Francois Bozize told reporters during a visit to Brussels, when asked about the report by the New York-based rights group.

Speaking earlier to participants at a donor's conference in the Belgian capital, Bozize blamed any excesses on a lack of training and awareness about human rights among the armed forces.

He said those responsible for committing abuses had been sanctioned, but he gave no details.

Saying that rights groups were misinformed by his opponents, he urged critics to investigate the rebels' actions as well.

"They are the ones who create the problems ... and what does one say about the rebels? That they are angels?" he asked.

Bozize made the comments at a time when the European Union was preparing to deploy a peacekeeping force to northeast Central African Republic and eastern Chad to help protect civilians there from violence spilling over from a 4-year-old conflict in neighbouring Sudan's Darfur region.

The president said the EU peacekeepers would be welcome.

The HRW report, citing research by the group in early 2007, accuses the CAR army of attacking and burning down hundreds of civilian villages across the north, destroying an estimated 10,000 homes and creating a far-ranging humanitarian disaster.

RECONCILIATION TALKS

Bozize, who seized power in 2003 and won elections two years later, has signed peace pacts with two rebel groups this year and is promoting an all-inclusive political dialogue aimed at reuniting the poor former French colony.

He said on Friday the national reconciliation talks would start as soon as one remaining insurgent group in the northwest agreed to join. "When we have their full agreement, the dialogue can start," he said.

The landlocked country in the heart of Africa, one of the world's poorest nations, is notoriously unstable and has seen 11 attempted coups or mutinies in the past decade alone.

Raids by several armed groups and counter-attacks by government soldiers have driven nearly 300,000 people from their homes in the northwest and northeast since 2006.

The EU force for Chad and CAR is intended to complement a much bigger United Nations/African Union peacekeeping operation planned for Sudan's Darfur region, where political and ethnic conflict has raged since 2003.

Bozize, who was in Brussels to appeal to the international community for aid funds, said his country needed at least 750 billion CFA francs ($1.64 billion) for development projects.

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