afrol News, 28 May - The Central African government has issued a statement saying it is back in control after disloyal soldiers this night and morning attempted to stage a coup d'état in the capital Bangui. At least seven have been killed in shootouts.
The coup attempt, which started 2:30 AM in Bangui, seems to have been avoided, although the rebel militaries still are on the loose and reportedly are regrouping. President Ange-Félix Patassé reportedly escaped an attack on his person without injuries.
The first shots were heard at 2:30 in the residential Bangui suburb housing President Patassé. Later, shots and even mortars were fired at the President's residence. With daylight, the shooting had spread to the southern part of the city and areas close to the airport. The gunmen took control over the national radio station.
Armed forces loyal to the President managed to halt gunmen's advances and thereby the coup d'état. At least seven have been killed in the fights so far, four of them from the Presidential Guard and one civilian. The mutinying soldiers are however still reported to occupy the southern parts of Bangui, a stronghold of the opposition.
At noon, the Central African government stated its army was in control of the situation. A government statement said, "The Army has managed to scotch the attempted coup d'état and is in total control of the situation."
- At this morning, around 2 o'clock, still not identified individuals started an attack, using automatic weapons, against several targets, including the residence of the President of the Republic, the statements reads. It goes on urging the "entire population to stay calm, but remain very vigilant to uncover these troublemakers."
The statement was signed by government spokesperson Constance Nathalie Gounebana. It made no mention of the whereabouts of shape of President Patassé, opening for speculations that he might have been injured. The President's spokesman Prosper Ndouba however later confirmed Patassé was "healthy and uninjured". Patassé has not yet appeared in public and remains under heavy guard.
Meanwhile, residents have started fleeing the southern townships fearing they could get in middle when loyal forces are set to attack the gunmen's strongholds there. The mutinying soldiers reportedly are consolidating their positions in southern Bangui, patrolling the streets with confiscated vehicles.
The identity of the coup plotters is still unknown, but speculations go towards military personnel that were involved in one of the many coups and coup attempts in the Central African Republic in the 1990s.
After a longer period of stability, the Central African Republic was thrown into chaos and civil war by three successive coup attempts in 1996 and 1997. The April 1996 coup attempt was conducted on a very similar way as tonight's attempt. On that occasion, France sent troops to protect Patassé's government.
The United Nations stationed peacekeepers in the country, assisting the polarised society achieving some stability and reconciliation. The UN peacekeepers were only withdrawn one year ago. Since then, however, the political situation in the Central African Republic has been slipping back to tension.
Earlier this year, the UN has expressed concern over the lack of dialogue between the country's main parties, calling it "a serious obstacle to the sustainability of the democratic institutions established barely a year ago." As both the government and the opposition were adopting a "confrontational approach", it was warned that the country was slipping into a political crisis.
Lacking international aid also has deepened the financial crisis, provoking massive demonstrations against the government over the failure to pay civil service salaries. These demonstrations have lasted for months. In 2000, social tension and the precarious economic situation provoked a strike by civil service workers that lasted almost the entire year.
Sources: Based on CAR govt, media reports and afrol archives