Peacekeeping force to stay until end of transition

The peacekeeping force of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States, known as CEMAC, will remain in the Central African Republic (CAR) until the end of the transitional period, that is due to last between 18 and 30 months, the force commander, Rear Adml Martin Mavoungou, told IRIN on Tuesday.

Events in the CAR took a sudden turn on 15 March when former army chief of staff Francois Bozize, seized power in a coup that toppled President Ange-Felix Patasse. Bozize has since said that he would step down as "president" at the end of a transitional period.

Mavoungou told IRIN that the decision to keep the CEMAC force in the CAR was in conformity with a decision taken by the regional summit on 21 March in Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo, regarding the CAR situation. The summit, to which Bozize was not invited, opted to maintain the CEMAC force and redefine its mission. The summit also approved the integration of a Chadian contingent into the force.

"We are preparing accommodation and equipment for 120 Chadian soldiers who are to be integrated into the force in 10 to 15 days," Mavoungou said.

He added that CEMAC was considering the possibility of increasing the size of the force beyond the initial 350 soldiers. The force is almost entirely bankrolled by France, which has disbursed €9 million (US $10.2 million) so far.

Operational since December 2002, the force was mandated to protect Patasse, restructure the CAR army and secure the CAR-Chad border. This ended with Bozize's coup on 15 March, and the 31-man Equatorial Guinea platoon withdrew from CAR soon after. Some 300 Chadian troops arrived in Bangui, the CAR capital, soon after the coup to secure the city and disarm unauthorised holders of firearms.

Mavoungou said that he was not yet informed about the arrival of contingents from Cameroon and Mali, which is not a CEMAC member. After the 15 March coup, CEMAC troops took part in the disarmament campaign in Bangui, and helped recover looted property.