Impressions from Bangui

Bangui- CAR (PANA) -- When flight 632 of CAMAIR arriving from Yaounde came to a stop on the tarmac of Mpoko Airport in Bangui just before 6 pm local time (5 pm GMT) this Wednesday 20 June, soldiers immediately surrounded the plane.
Passengers were informed that the move was only for security reasons, but no one could help feeling slightly anxious.
All still had in mind the bloody fighting that trailed the failed coup mounted by Gen.
Andre Kolingba.
After all police and customs formalities under the supervision of female officers, a rather courteous soldier helped me reach the person I sought, using a cell phone because local conventional phones can be very unreliable.
Nothing much seems to have changed at Bangui airport.
It was the same crowd of potters jostling to squeeze something out of incoming passengers.
Outside, several international red-cross vehicles flying the institution's well-known colours depart for the city.
Taxis are quite difficult to find.
My Cameroonian colleague and I had to hire the services of a young boy to help fetch a cab for us.
The driver only accepted us on board after we agreed to pay twice the official price, i.
6,000 francs CFA (1 US dollar = 700 FCFA).
We then sped through the market, which is contiguous to the airport.
It was still swarming with people, even though the sun was beginning to set.
Nothing in the attitude of the people showed that the country was just coming out of its fourth rebellion, in fact the bloodiest one.
Our cabbie (call him Sylvain) tried to sound reassuring: "All is well now, the fighting has ceased," he affirmed, but confirmed reports about the hunt for people of Kolingba's Yakoma tribe.
How do you recognise a Yakoma? What if people think we are Yakomas? "They usually carry tribal tattoos.
By the way, your accent is different and soldiers do check identity papers," he assured us.
My companion stepped down at the Catholic Mission and I continued alone with Sylvain.
We were careful to avoid the area where President Patasse has his residence, because soldiers there are a trifle too trigger-happy.
The streets of the capital are near impracticable and Sylvain had to be particularly careful to avoid the numerous potholes that, in the dark, appeared more like traps for motorists.
But the cabbie is more and more careful as we approach the Kasai barracks where fierce fighting occurred between loyal and rebel troops.
"I must be very cautious because the soldiers can shoot at us in spite of the orders to the contrary, from the hierarchy.
" Still, we also had to hurry to beat the curfew set for 9 pm local time (8 pm GMT), and I was really relieved to find my contact at our agreed venue.
The man looked not the least preoccupied, in spite of the soldiers manning the checkpoints.
He chatted rather freely with some of them, sometimes handing out bank notes to them.
Soldiers as well as civil servants in the Central African Republic have gone for several months without pay, and handing out bank notes eased our way past the military's road blocks.
The night was calm, only disturbed by distant explosions across the Oubangui River in DR Congo, where forces sent in by rebel leader Jean Pierre Bemba were conducting a mop-up operation against the insurgents.

22 june 2001 08:16:00

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