CAR

Central African Republic: Consultations on national conference under way

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BANGUI, 9 January (IRIN) - The coordinator of the national reconciliation dialogue in the Central African Republic (CAR), Bishop Paulin Pomodino, has said that a committee is being set up to decide a date, venue and agenda for its meeting.
He told IRIN on Wednesday that the committee would also decide on participants to the meeting. However, he said that the meeting should involve everyone, including representatives of President Ange-Felix Patasse's main opponents.

Pomodino also said "many partners and friendly countries" had already agreed to fund the meeting. He had approached the UN Peace-building Office in the CAR and the Chinese and French ambassadors in connection with preparations for the talks. No date has yet been set for the event.

Patasse suggested the need for a national conference on reconciliation on 25 November 2002, and on 28 December appointed Pomodino to lead the effort. The UN Security Council has welcomed the development, Marie Okabe, the associate spokeswoman for the UN secretary-general, told reporters in New York on Wednesday.

The country has been in a deep political and security crisis since former President Andre Kolingba attempted his coup in May 2001. Now, the country is divided into two parts, ever since supporters of the former army chief of staff, Gen Francois Bozize, invaded the capital, Bangui, on 25 October 2002.

Presently, the government still controls the southwest and, theoretically, the easternmost part of the country. Government-held zones behind rebel positions remain isolated from Bangui and exposed to frequent attacks. The rebels control the cities in the centre and northwest of the country.

One such town is Bambari, 385 km east of Bangui, guarded by some 100 government troops. A witness who left the town on 29 December told IRIN that as at that date the rebels had entered the town on 2 and 13 December, but had left each time. "They did not kill people," the witness, who did not wish to be identified, told IRIN. "Rather, they stole money from Lebanese shops, satellite telephones and looted the homes of government civil servants."

Stricken by fear, the witness said 3,000 of the town's 100,000 inhabitants had fled to their farms, where they have erected straw huts. Relatives received others. The situation in the town remained desperate, the witness said. Only one doctor, whose anti-malarial drugs were expected to run out within days, was manning the regional hospital. "It is more like a cemetery than a hospital," the witness said. He said children were dying from malnutrition.

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