CEMAC troops capture two bandits

Peacekeeping troops of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States (CEMAC) have taken prisoner two rebels fighters once loyal to Central African Republic leader Francois Bozize, a spokesman said.

The CEMAC military spokesman, Col Augustin Bibaye, told IRIN that the troops also captured six light arms and rockets. He said the incident occurred on Sunday when 75 CEMAC troops, on a sweep from 21-26 June to disarm people of illegal weapons in the northeast of the country, were ambushed in three separate incidents.

The first ambush by 16 men took place in Gouia, 45 km south of the northeastern town of Bambari. In the second incident, 11 men attacked the troops in the village of Sabagoule, 85 km south of Bambari, and another six men ambushed the troops 25 km south of the northeastern town of Sibut. Bibaye said there were no casualties among the CEMAC troops.

He said the prisoners said they formed part of a group of former Bozize supporters who escaped an effort to disarm all fighters in Bangui, the capital, soon after Bozize overthrew President Ange-Felix Patasse on 15 March.

The CEMAC troops involved in the effort to sweep the northeast of firearms were from Chad. The commander of the 121-man Chadian company, who led the troops, Col Bechir Ali Haggar, told IRIN on Saturday that the poor state of roads had hindered his mission.

Haggar said that residents in the northeast had told him that the armed elements told the population that they had been sent by the government to secure the area. Instead, they robbed Fulania herdsmen of their cattle and tortured those who refused to provide money.

Despite the harassment from unauthorised armed men, Haggar said, residents remained in their towns.

Since receiving its new mandate 3 June, CEMAC troops have been engaged in operations to secure provincial towns in the northwest and the east-central part of the country.

CEMAC troops have been mandated to secure and defend the country's towns and vital infrastructures; to secure major roads and the north of the country; and to disarm illegal bearers of firearms. The force comprises 139 troops from Gabon, 120 from the Republic of Congo and 121 from Chad. Its mandate expires at the end of the period of political transition in January 2005.

Meantime, state-owned Television Centrafricaine reported on Saturday that the army captured on Friday a private vehicle loaded with dozens of small arms and ammunition heading for the town of Sido, about 500 km north of Bangui. The occupants of the vehicle were arrested.

The absence of military and administrative authorities has made it easy to armed groups to terrorise the public. This has delayed the start of humanitarian relief operations and the return home of displaced people. The minister in charge of territorial administration said on 25 June that only governors in the northwest of the country had reported to their stations.