Regional troops disarm 187 former rebels

Troops of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States (CEMAC) have disarmed and cantoned 187 former rebels loyal to the current Central African Republic (CAR) leader, Francois Bozize, the force's spokesman said on Thursday.

"Because of the confusion that prevailed in Bangui and in the provinces, we decided first to neutralize the patriotic forces," Col Augustin Bibaye, the spokesman, said.

He was speaking during a news conference in Bangui, the CAR capital. He said large quantities of arms and ammunition as well as stolen vehicles had been recovered. The vehicles are to be returned to their owners.

A massive joint operation by CEMAC troops, the CAR army, gendarmerie and police to rid the capital of unauthorised firearms began on 23 May.

Bibaye said that some of the former Bozize rebels had reported voluntarily to the CEMAC base.

"Those who do not do so will be sought out," Bibaye said.

After they are registered, he said, the former rebels would be handed over to the government. State-owned Radio Centrafrique reported on Thursday that the former rebels would be sent to Chad for military training.

Since ousting President Ange-Felix Patasse on 15 March, Bozize has yet to restore security to the entire country. Despite a massive disarmament effort that followed his coup, many cases of armed robbery have been reported. Many of these were attributed to Bozize's former combatants also called "patriotic forces" or "liberators".

CAR Minister of Communication Parfait Mbaye told IRIN on 21 May that some militiamen loyal to Patasse were responsible for some night attacks and armed robbery.

Bibaye said that when the CEMAC force finishes disarming the former rebels, it would concentrate on other armed groups that may also be involved in armed robbery in Bangui and in the provinces.

Insecurity has prevented thousands of displaced from returning home.

Moreover, Cooperazione Internazionale, an Italian humanitarian NGO, postponed on Friday its emergency medical programme in the north after unidentified armed men stole its vehicle.

With 350 men from Chad, Gabon and the Republic of Congo, the CEMAC force has been in the CAR since December 2002. It was sent to protect Patasse, secure the CAR-Chad border and restructure the CAR army. After the 15 March coup, the force's mandate was cancelled and is to be redefined. Regional head of states agreed to maintain the force in the CAR until the end of the transition in January 2005.