Former leader Andre Kolingba apologises to nation

Former Central African Republic (CAR) leader Andre Kolingba apologised to the nation on Monday for the errors of his government during his 12-year rule and for his role in the May 2001 failed coup attempt against the then president, Ange-Felix Patasse.

"I solemnly present my apology to my compatriots," he told 350 delegates to the ongoing national reconciliation talks.

He said many people had suffered reprisals or been forced to flee the country due to his actions and declarations during the coup attempt; others had been unjustly imprisoned or ill-treated.

"I take on the entire moral responsibility for my declarations," he said.

Kolingba, who ruled from 1981 to 1993, was a self-declared president. During the May coup attempt, speaking on Radio France Internationale, he called on Patasse to resign and hand power over to him. When Patasse flushed out Kolingba's supporters, many from Kolingba's Yakoma ethnic group were ill-treated or killed. Others had their properties destroyed.

Kolingba said he had not masterminded the coup attempt, but had been asked by a group of soldiers to support their revolt. "After sober reflection on my responsibilities as a former head of state and former army chief bearing the highest army rank, I decided to support those compatriots," he said.

In August 2002, the Bangui criminal court sentenced him to death in absentia. It also sentenced 800 others, 600 of them in absentia. But following an amnesty granted all May 2001 coup convicts by the nation's current leader, Francois Bozize, Kolingba and thousands of other exiles returned home.

Kolingba also apologised for the excesses committed under his government, which resulted from an earlier coup, in 1981, this time against David Dacko. Mentioning the names of Bozize, Prime Minister Abel Goumba and Dacko, as well as other political and labour union leaders, Kolingba asked for forgiveness.

Accused of having plotted a coup in 1982, Bozize, then in exile in Benin, was extradited to Bangui in 1989, where he was reportedly tortured.

In an appeal for national healing, Kolingba said that once key political leaders reconciled, the general public would follow.

"The time has come for us all to stand together sincerely and forgive each other for the harm we did among ourselves," Kolingba said.