CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC-CHAD: Regional efforts underway to calm tensions
NAIROBI, 28 November 2001 (IRIN) - A summit aimed at resolving the crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) will be held on 3 Dec., in Khartoum, Sudan, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported on Wednesday.
Expected to attend are the heads of state of the CAR, Chad, Gabon, Libya and Sudan, as well as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Representative to the CAR, the secretary-general of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States and a representative of the Organisation of African Unity.
"The principle difficulties at present are those created by fighting in the [northwestern CAR] region of Batangapo between forces loyal to ex-Gen. [Francois] Bozize and the CAR military," a spokesman for the French ministry said.
He was referring to recent confrontations near the CAR border with Chad between government forces in pursuit of those loyal to Bozize, the former CAR army chief of staff currently seeking refuge in Chad.
"This is an internal matter of the CAR, however it could complicate relations between the CAR and Chad," the spokesman added. "We hope that prudence and moderation will prevail for a peaceful and concerted resolution of this matter."
Meanwhile, a precursor summit of the heads of states belonging to the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC) has been "urgently" convened for Friday in the Gabonese capital, Libreville, AFP reported. CEMAC is made up of Cameroon, CAR, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Republic of Congo. During a daylong visit on Tuesday to Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, President Omar Bongo of Gabon said it was necessary that CEMAC members get involved in finding a peaceful settlement to the problem, PANA reported. He also warned that the troubles could lead to a crisis between Chad and the CAR.
Hostilities first erupted on 3 Nov. when government forces tried to arrest Bozize on behalf of a judicial commission probing this year's coup attempt of 28 May. Bozize refused, claiming he had not been given sufficient safety guarantees. He was dismissed as army chief of staff on 26 Oct. after being accused of involvement in a coup plot and after weapons were found in three homes in the capital. However, he denied involvement, saying he backed CAR President Ange-Felix Patasse during army mutinies in 1996 and 1997. Soldiers allied to Bozize came to his defence, and five days of intermittent fighting in the northern region of the capital ensued before Bozize and his forces were dislodged from their stronghold in northern Bangui and fled northward toward Chad.
On Saturday, Chadian President Idriss Deby received a CAR delegation led by Special Advisor and Presidential Spokesman Prosper N'Douba that had come to discuss the possible extradition of Bozize from Chad, where he has sought refuge in the southern town of Sahr. However, N'Douba said that the CAR had not yet requested Bozize's return.
"We are simply making contacts with the Chadian authorities, hence the presence of the CAR state chief prosecutor who is carrying an information letter to enlighten the Chadian authorities," N'Douba told Gabon's Africa No 1 radio.
For his part, Chadian Prime Minister Nagoum Yamassoum said that if an international arrest warrant were to be issued, his country would "give a response that is also based on the law". Speaking to Africa No 1 radio on Saturday, Yamassoum said: "Our first obligation was that he, Bozize, had come to seek refuge and we have to grant him this refuge, while continuing to explore ways and means ... to solve this problem that has come up between a CAR citizen and his president."
"I can assure you that Chadians that have sought refuge in the CAR for political reasons have not found there the conditions for destabilising the Chadian state," he continued. "So, the Chadian government has no reason for any reprisals against the CAR. It was a humanitarian measure that we took."
Responding to allegations that he was going to launch a rebellion in northern CAR, Bozize on Monday told Radio France Internationale that his forces were "merely defending" themselves.
"We are not actually opening a front per se. Indeed, they [the CAR military, which he alleged to be assisted by former Chadian rebels] are still on our tracks even as they are talking about negotiation, dialogue, and so on," he said.
Asked if he would be attending the 3 Dec. meeting in Khartoum, Bozize said he had not received an invitation, but that he would leave the "necessary arrangements" to Chadian authorities.
"I trust them," he said.
CAR, a former French colony, is one of the world’s poorest countries despite its diamond mines. It has a history of military uprisings, with three major rebellions against current President Ange-Felix Patasse since 1996.
Last year, the UN ended a peacekeeping mission it sent in 1999 to replace the French-backed African force which restored order after the mutinies in the 1990s, but UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned in January that peace was in danger.
CAR has also suffered as a result of the war in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), from where at least 8,000 refugees have fled since 1998, to live in deplorable conditions.