Court acquits former minister accused of treason

Former Central African Republic Defence Minister Jean-Jacques Demafouth was acquitted on Monday of organising a coup against President Ange-Felix Patasse, state-owned Radio Centrafrique reported.

"The court did not see sufficient evidence that Mr Jean-Jacques Demafouth did anything to breach the internal and public security in May 2001," Zacharie N'douba, the chairman of the National Criminal Court, said.

"This is a fair verdict. Everybody knew that there was no charge against Demafouth," Nicolas Tiangaye, one of Demafouth's three defence attorneys, told IRIN.

Chief Prosecutor Joseph Bindoumi had asked to court to sentence Demafouth to 20 years' imprisonment. Demafouth's trial, those of his 80 co-accused, and another 600 fugitives sentenced in absentia, was broadcast on government-owned radio. Former President Andre Kolingba and his three sons were among those sentenced to death, in absentia.

Demafourth has been released from prison where he has been held since his arrest August 2001 on suspicion of planning a coup with the help of the Jean-Pierre Bemba, the leader of the rebel Mouvement de liberation du Congo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The prosecutor's office contended that the coup had failed because Kolingba mounted his abortive overthrow bid first, on 28 May 2001.

During his preliminary court session earlier this year, Demafouth denied involvement in any coup plot and declared his loyalty to Patasse. He accused Patasse's entourage of orchestrating his arrest.