afrol News, 30 May - Calm has been restored in the Central African Republic's capital Bangui, after mutinying soldier attempted to topple President Patassé's government on Monday. The gunmen yesterday had to give up their strongholds in southern Bangui. Today, the government accused ex-military dictator André Kolingba of standing behind the attacks.
Although regular army troops loyal to President Ange-Félix Patassé hindered the gunmen from their coup plans already on Monday morning, fighting went on in Bangui until yesterday afternoon.
In the night between Sunday and Monday, gunmen attacked the residence of President Patassé with automatic weapons and mortars. The Presidential Guard managed to rescue Patassé and stopped the gunmen's further advance. The latter however managed to establish themselves in the southern parts of Bangui on Monday morning, a stronghold of the opposition. The rebels took control of the national radio station and started patrolling southern Bangui streets with confiscated vehicles.
As it became clear that loyal troops had the upper hand, look started to run out on the gunmen. From Monday afternoon until yesterday, loyal troops slowly took control of the southern parts of the capital, hunting down the mutineers one by one, leaving them shot dead in the streets. The group of an estimated hundred mutinying soldiers quickly dissolved.
Already on Monday morning, southern Bangui residents started to flee their suburbs in panic. Fears were widespread that government troops would place their residential areas under heavy artillery, something that however was avoided.
Others also feared they would be seen as sympathisers of the mutineers. Southern Bangui is predominantly a residential area of migrants from the southern part of the country, where the majority is opposing northerner Patassé. There were speculations that the mutiny had operated from the same ethnic split, a theory strengthened by the government's accusation, General Kolingba had been behind the coup plans.
On Tuesday, the situation in Bangui was reported to be calm but volatile, with some gunfire. Today's reports from Bangui indicate that a relative calm is returning to the city and that residents are moving back to the southern parts. The reported death toll so far is at 20 persons, including seven member of the Presidential Guard.
The identity of the coup plotters remains unknown, but the presidency today accused ex-President General André Kolingba of having organised the attempted coup. Presidency spokeswomen Prosper Ndouba said in a statement today the attack had been "prepared and organised by General André Kolingba."
Kolingba was the military ruler of the Central African Republic until he lost the presidential elections to Patassé in 1993, thereby ending twelve years of military rule. Kolingba is a southerner, as were presidents David Dacko and Jean-Bedel Bokassa, while Patassé is from the north, where he also obtained most votes in 1993 and when he was re-elected in 1999. Kolingba remains in politics, heading the RDC opposition party, which groups 20 of the 48 opposition seats in Parliament.
Also the United Nations, which has been heavily involved in establishing peace and stability in the troubled nation, yesterday condemned the coup attempt. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan reacted with "dismay" to the coup attempt and said he deplored the use of force for toppling popularly elected governments. "The Secretary-General condemns any attempt to overthrow an elected government by force," a spokesman for Annan said in a statement.
Annan called on all Central Africans, especially political and other leaders, to respect the democratic institutions of the country and to favour dialogue, the UN spokesman said, reminding that Annan in a report earlier this year had blamed the crisis in the country in part on the opposition's attempt "by every possible means to seize the power that it was unable to win through the ballot box."
In the same report, the UN 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.
The UN stationed peacekeepers in the country, assisting the polarised society achieving some stability and reconciliation. The UN peacekeepers were only withdrawn in February. Since then, however, the Central African Republic has been slipping back towards political and ethnic tension. The political parties, divided after the main northern and southern ethnic groups, lack the will to cooperate.
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, UN, media reports and afrol archives