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In CAR, Displaced Reluctant to Return Home

In the Central African Republic, people displaced by fighting between government forces and rebels are reluctant to return home. Government forces say they have recaptured areas in the north that were seized by rebels. Kari Barber reports from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

Government forces in the Central African Rebublic, backed by France, have succeeded in the past few weeks in recapturing areas taken in a rebel advance in the north.

The rebel group known as the Union of Democratic Forces for Rally says it is seeking a national dialogue with President Francois Bozize.

In the northwest, government officials acknowledge villages were burned. But the government denies claims villages were burned intentionally, saying houses caught in the crossfire between government forces and rebels were set ablaze.

Aid workers who visited the region report that people who have fled the fighting say they are reluctant to return, and many say they are now homeless.

Paul Melly is a journalist who has been covering the Central African Republic for about 15 years. He says, logistically, the country is difficult for a government to manage.

"This is a large country with only just about 4 million people and the structure to govern it in an organized way and maintain order has always been extremely fragile, and, when it is challenged by the activities of armed groups - rebels or bandits - the state does not really have the means to impose its authority and maintain order," he said.

President Bozize seized power following a 2003 rebellion, and then won the presidential election in 2005.

Analyst Chris Melville of London-based Control Risks says government forces have been seeing a reshuffling in the ranks under President Bozize.

"Bozize, about three to four months ago, dismissed many of his senior military officers, those who had served under former President Ange-Felix Patasse, but who had sided with Bozize during his own march on Bangui in March 2003," he noted. "These officers have now been taken out of the picture, and more compliant and dependent officers have been moved into the Central African Republic's armed forces."

Government officials have said France's military help was instrumental in defeating the latest rebel movement. The French military keeps a small force in its former colony as part of agreements signed following independence.

Melville says the French involvement in the Central African Republic symbolizes a desire to stabilize a region where it once held a lot of influence, but is seeing that influence decline.

Financial help is also being extended.

Central African Republic national radio reported Friday that France has agreed to provide an aid budget of more than $2 million for Central African Republic to pay public salaries.