- The signs of renewed armed conflict in the Central African Republic are becoming clearer. The disarmament process is yet to start and independent rebel groups that helped General François Bozizé to power in last year's coup are now taking up arms against the Central African strongman.
Hundreds of Central African and Chadian "warriors" - often uprooted men migrating from one armed insurrection to the next one - flocked to assist general Bozizé in his rebellion against the democratically elected President of the country, Angé-Felix Patassé, last year. When they succeeded in chasing Mr Patassé from Bangui on 15 March 2003, they were honoured as "liberators" by the new Central African strongman.
More than one year later, the "ex-liberators" are increasingly taking up arms against General Bozizé and the regular Central African army. Their integration into the regular army has failed and the loosely organised rebels are fighting for a significant economic compensation for having aided General Bozizé.
On Saturday, the first shots were fired between the new rebels and the regular army in the northern outskirts of the capital, Bangui, where the rebels had set up barricades. According to reports from the French news agency AFP, seven persons were killed in the shootout, including one soldier, and 15 were injured.
Negotiations between the Bozizé military administration and the new rebels broke down yesterday. According to reports from Bangui, the new rebels rejected the offer of an ill-paid inclusion into the regular troops of the Central African Republic.
Negotiations had focused on an economic compensation for the "liberators'" participation in the 2003 coup, but while the new rebels demanded franc CFA one million (euro 1,500) each, General Bozizé's army only had offered them franc CFA 150,000 (euro 230). The military authorities would find it hard to finance the almost one million euro the rebels' demand would cost, given that the group numbers between 500 and 1000 combatants.
General Bozizé's military authorities however fear that renewed fighting in the already war-ravaged country may be a reality within short if no negotiated deal is found. The military authorities already yesterday announced increased safety measured in and around Bangui and ordered military reinforcements to secure the capital.
Observers fear that a new armed rebellion could easily spread across the unstable country as dissatisfaction with the Bozizé regime is spreading. His inability to pay off his ex-mercenaries reflects the generally poor state of the Central African Republic's economy. Despite promises of economic restoration, government paycheques remain heavily delayed, if they are received at all.
General Bozizé had managed to take power in Bangui partly due to the general dissatisfaction with the economic chaos during the Patassé regime, which failed to secure international funds to defend the country's young democracy. The military leadership in Bangui however has not found it easier to attract international support, in particular after general Bozizé made headlines by disrespecting human rights and press freedom.
Currently, the Bozizé regime is unenthusiastically aided by the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), which has deployed some peacekeeping troops in the country. Also the UN has a very limited engagement in Bangui.
One of the UN's missions in the Central African Republic is to see to the disarmament process initiated by the Bozizé regime, which includes reintegrating former combatants to local communities. The UN however yet has to start its disarmament project and as time is passing, its chances to succeed seem smaller and smaller.
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