Government denies rebel killing of 125 Congolese militia

The government of the Central African Republic (CAR) has denied the reported massacre last week of 125 Congolese militiamen by rebels loyal to the former army chief of staff, Francois Bozize.

"How could they have been killed while there has been no fighting for more than two weeks?" Xavier Yangongo, the deputy defence minister, told IRIN on Monday.

The government of President Ange-Felix Patasse invited troops of the Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo (MLC), based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to come to the CAR to help crush a rebellion in October. They contributed towards driving the rebels out of the capital Bangui's northern suburbs, as well as out of three other CAR cities - Bossembele (157 km north of Bangui), Bozoum (384 km to the north) and Damara (80 km to the east).

However, the MLC troops are unpopular among the local population due to massive human rights violations attributed to them, including rape and looting.

Meanwhile, troops belonging to the Communaute des Etats Sahelo-Sahariens (CEN-SAD), which have been protecting Patasse since a previous coup attempt in May 2001, are continuing to withdraw. Following the departure of the Djiboutian and Sudanese contingents of the CEN-SAD force, a part of the Libyan contingent was also repatriated, on 27 December.

"The CEMAC [Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States] force now occupies the former Libyan positions," said Yangongo on Monday, but declined to specify how many Libyan soldiers had left.

The 350-man CEMAC force, set up by the 2 October Libreville summit, currently has 231 Gabonese soldiers on the ground, who started patrolling the streets of Bangui on 27 December. Gen Rachid Ahmed Ratanga, who commands the force, said a contingent from the Republic of Congo was expected in Bangui in early January, while others from Cameroon, Mali and Equatorial Guinea had not yet announced their arrival dates.