CAR needs break with cycle of violence

Bangui- Central African Republic (PANA) -- Just when it was thought the devil of division had been chased away following a UN-brokered pact of national reconciliation signed in 1998 by the country's political fronts, the Central African Republic is in turmoil again.
Last 28 May elements of the armed forces launched an attack on the residence of President Ange Felix Patasse at the behest of former President Andre Kolingba, with the clear objective to seize power.
A loyalist repost propped by troops from Libya and Jean Pierre Bemba's rebel Congolese Liberation Front, managed to save the regime.
But for how long? Although endowed with vast natural resources, CAR since 1982 appears doomed to instability.
Former Prime Minister Jean-Paul Ngoupande recalls that "CAR used to be one of the most united countries in the central African sub region," adding that "the phenomenon of instability really came under Kolingba in 1983 with the introduction of tribalism in the Public Service and the army.
" At the time, he recalls, out of 36 state companies, people from Kolingba's Yakoma ethnic group managed 29, although the Yakomas account for no more than four percent of the country's population.
Ngoupande also recalls an alleged coup attempt that forced Ange Felix Patasse into exile, the destruction of his house and the persecution of his ethnic group in the north of the country.
Then came the settling of scores, as it were, with Patasse's cohorts now destroying Kolingba's houses and persecuting his Yakoma ethnic group, Ngoupande observes.
In 1993 at the country's first free elections since Independence, the people of CAR voted against the tribalism Kolingba had institutionalised as a method of governance.
But Ngoupande insists that upon taking over, Patasse had trouble managing the change of power, thus easing Kolingba's emergence as an alternative political force in the country after the 1998 parliamentary elections.
For the former Prime Minister, the whole problem of the Central African Republic turns around an intense hatred between Patasse and Kolingba.
But he admits that poverty was also taking its toll.
"It is obvious," affirms Ngoupande, "that it is not possible to separate the crises from the extreme poverty among Central Africans.
" In fact, by June ending civil servants in the country would be into their 28th consecutive month without pay.
However, Patasse's spokesman Prosper Ndouba sees no link between the unpaid salaries and last May's coup attempt, even if he does concede that the situation "could fuel instability.
" Ndouba rather intimates politico-military underpinnings to the crisis in CAR, arguing that Kolingba was yet to recover from the electoral setbacks of 1993 and 1999.
Whatever underlies instability in CAR, of essence is getting the country out of its cycle of crises.
Here Ngoupande recommends as a matter of priority, a cooling down of things.
Everything, he urges, must be done to prevent the failed coup from turning into a civil war, "That's why we [the political class] went to reassure Patasse [last Tuesday].
" For him, such a gesture can help re-establish dialogue with a view to setting the country back on the rails of stability.
But since a hungry man is an angry man, the government would have to make significant efforts at paying salary arrears, and here assistance from the international community is greatly needed.
Observers, meanwhile, can only hope last Tuesday's meeting would make some inroads easing the mistrust between ruling and opposition forces in the Central African Republic.

27 june 2001 20:20:00

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