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CAR Security Forces Clash with Mercenaries - 2004-04-23

Security forces clashed late Thursday with a group of mercenary fighters in a northern suburb of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. Fighting first erupted last week when the mercenaries demanded higher payment for their assistance in bringing President Francois Bozize to power last year.

A communication advisor to the president, Alain Georges N'gatoua, says the most recent clashes were triggered when the mercenaries fired on an army vehicle.

The spokesman says the army retaliated against the aggression of the fighters, which led to the exchange of gunfire but no casualties were reported yesterday. So far seven people have been killed and several others have been seriously wounded.

About 500 mercenaries, mainly from Chad, are each demanding about $1,800 from President Bozize. They say they have no political demands but are angry that they have not been paid a full year after the president seized power.

President Bozize came to power in March 2003 after deposing elected leader Ange-Felix Patasse who at the time was out of the country attending a conference in Niger.

Mr. N'gatoua says the fighters had initially agreed to a payment of $300 each.

He says the Central African Republic is an impoverished nation that has been facing financial instability for years. He says it would be impossible for the government to meet the new demands of the mercenaries. Mr. N'gatoua says President Bozize is willing to keep his promise of the original payment but that the combatants have refused and turned to violence instead.

The army is deployed in strategic areas of Bangui and civilians have returned to the streets as normal. The government is hoping to open talks with the government of Chad in order to bring an end to the clashes.