March 25 Photo Brief: Spring snow on the East Coast, Supreme Court takes on Prop. 8, rebels capture Central African Republic, a 130 ft Lord Buddha statue
Spring snow on the East Coast, Supreme Court takes on Prop. 8, rebels capture Central African Republic, a 130 foot Lord Buddha statue and more in today’s daily brief.
Central African Republic rebel chief to name power-sharing government
Ange Aboa and Paul-Marin Ngoupana | Reuters
1:40 p.m. EDT, March 25, 2013
BANGUI (Reuters) – The leader of rebels in Central African Republic pledged to name a power-sharing government in a bid to defuse international criticism of Sunday’s coup that killed 13 South African soldiers and plunged the mineral-rich nation into chaos.
Regional peacekeepers said that leader of the Seleka rebel coalition, self-proclaimed President Michel Djotodia, appealed for their help in restoring order after his own men joined in a second day of looting in the riverside capital Bangui.
The rebels’ ouster of President Francois Bozize was swiftly condemned by the United Nations and the African Union. But in a sign of pragmatism, the United States, France and regional powerbroker Chad called on the insurgents to respect a January peace deal creating a unity government.
Some 5,000 Seleka fighters swept into the capital on Sunday after a lightning offensive in which they fought their way from the far north to the presidential palace in four days after a the collapse of the power-sharing agreement signed in the Gabonese capital Libreville.
Neighboring Cameroon confirmed on Monday that Bozize had arrived there but said it was not giving him permanent refugee.
The removal of Bozize, who himself seized power in a 2003 coup backed by Chad, was just the latest in a series of rebellions since the poor, landlocked country won independence from France in 1960.
“We will respect the Libreville accord, which means a political transition of 2 to 3 years before elections,” Seleka spokesman Eric Massi said by telephone.
The Libreville deal – drafted by regional mediators after the rebels besieged Bangui in December – had created a government drawn from Bozize loyalists, rebel leaders and the civilian opposition.
Massi said that civilian opposition member Nicolas Tiangaye would remain as prime minister with a slightly rejigged cabinet.
In the sprawling capital, 600,000 residents remained without power and running water for a third day, preventing Djotodia from making a planned national address from the presidential palace.
Despite a curfew, there was widespread pillaging of offices, public buildings and businesses by rebels and civilians.
“Public order is the biggest problem right now,” said General Jean Felix Akanga, commander of the regional African peacekeeping force. “Seleka’s leaders are struggling to control their men. The president has asked us to help restore calm.”
He said the rebels would start to confine their forces to barracks from Monday.
“SAD MOMENT” FOR SOUTH AFRICA
With France’s military contingent refusing to intervene, two heavily armed columns of insurgents in pick up trucks stormed into Bangui on Sunday, brushing aside a South African force of 400 troops which attempted to block their path.
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma said at least 13 soldiers were killed and 27 others wounded in the fighting, the worst military setback for Pretoria since the end of apartheid and an embarrassing snub to its efforts to project its power in the resource-rich heart of Africa.
“It is a sad moment for our country,” Zuma said, adding that another soldier was still missing. “The actions of these bandits will not deter us from our responsibility of working for peace and stability in Africa.”
Zuma said South Africa had not decided yet whether or not to withdraw its force, which he said had inflicted heavy casualties on the rebels during a 9-hour attack on their base.
“This is complete disaster for South Africa,” said Thierry Vircoulon, Central African specialist at International Crisis Group. “They did not at all understand they were backing the wrong horse. They did not consult within the region.”
Seleka, a loose coalition of five rebel groups whose name means “alliance” in the Songo language, was formed last year after Bozize had failed to implement power-sharing in the wake of disputed 2011 elections boycotted by the opposition.
It resumed hostilities on Thursday after military leaders of the group detained its five members of Bozize’s government and accused the president of violating January’s peace deal by failing to integrate 2,000 of its fighters into the army.
“The movements that make up Seleka have a long history of divisions,” Vircoulon said. “The cohesion of Seleka will be tested now they are in full control.”
Despite rich deposits of gold, diamonds and uranium, Central African Republic remains one of the world’s least developed and most unstable nations.
Bozize rose to prominence in the military during the 1966-1979 rule of dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa, a self-styled emperor found guilty of the murder of schoolchildren and other crimes.
In recent years, Bozize’s government had hosted U.S. Special Forces helping regional armies hunt down the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels, led by a Ugandan warlord, who have killed thousands of civilians during decades of conflict.
FRENCH NATIONALS SAFE
Paris, which already had 250 soldiers in Central African Republic, has sent another 300 troops to ensure the security of its citizens and diplomatic missions.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said there was no need to evacuate the 1,200 French nationals, most of whom are in the capital. “Things are under control from our point of view regarding French nationals,” Fabius said on Europe 1 radio.
French President Francois Hollande spoke to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Chadian President Idriss Deby to suggest that any solution to the crisis should be based on the January Libreville agreement, Fabius added.
“For now, there is no legitimate authority there,” he said, adding that it was not up to France to intervene in the internal affairs of the country.
The U.S. State Department also called on the Seleka to ensure the implementation of the Libreville agreement and provide full support to Tiangaye’s government. Regional military power Chad said the same in a statement on Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas in Paris; Writing by Daniel Flynn and David Lewis; Editing by Peter Graff and Anna Willard)