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Analysts Say EU Forces Could Help Stabilize Weakening CAR

The Central African Republic is due to receive European Union peacekeepers to protect civilians from violence spilling over from Sudan's Darfur region. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar that analysts say the E.U. troops could help stabilize the country as it faces political turmoil and a humanitarian crisis in the north.

The Central African Republic, which along with Chad borders Sudan's warring Darfur region, is teeming with displaced people and rebels.

A 3,700 member EU force was supposed to deploy in the Central African Republic and Chad to secure hundreds of thousands of displaced people in their border regions, until fighting in Chad delayed those plans.

Unlike Chad, though, where the capital is under rebel threat, British-based Africa analyst Alex Vines, says the C.A.R. capital seems safe.

"I think the situation in Bangui is fairly stable, but in the north of the country, this sort of presence will help, let alone provide a backdrop of security so that there is not a spillover as there was last year from the conflict in Darfur," said Vines.

The EU force is supposed to deploy only along the border areas, and analysts say it could serve as a deterrent to rebels operating both in Chad and the Central African Republic.

South-African based security analyst Paul Simon Hendy says C.A.R. President Francois Bozize is the only leader in the region who has openly welcomed the EU deployment.

"This is an extremely weak government with a weak legitimacy in Bangui. It is extremely difficult. It is a very poor country with no infrastructure and with no political consensus about the way the country should be ruled," he said. "The general in power is actually enjoying a very weak legitimacy, so for him an international deployment will first aim at actually enhancing his legitimacy in the country, actually give him a kind of leverage to direct the country's affairs."

Mr. Bozize, a former military general, is also the defense minister and had his son named as his deputy in that ministry. The military is in control of the interior, mining, and transport ministries.

During a recent crippling strike by state workers, Mr. Bozize changed his prime minister, naming university rector and math professor Faustin-Archange Touadera.

Vines says he believes this line up of leadership hints at the president's weakness.

"I mean the prime minister, Touadera, is relatively unknown, and those of us watching the Central African Republic did not really notice him when he was appointed on January 22nd," added Vines. "I think it may be indicative of the president trying to ensure that there are not too many people who are strong around him. It is also maybe a statement of insecurity, which is why he maybe is also looking at his family to have supporters around him."

State workers have been on strike this year demanding back pay and higher salaries, paralyzing the administration and public schools.

Vines says there is just no money to pay them, making an already unstable situation even more precarious.

"This is a difficult situation for the government. There is not much productive economy in the Central African Republic to be able to pay for these demands and for pay rises. It is a situation of growing tension," he said.

The Central African Republic has suffered a series of coups, mutinies and rebellions during the past decade. Human-rights groups have accused its security forces of burning villages and raping women in counter-attack operations against rebels in the north.

Like Chad's president, Idriss Deby, Mr. Bozize says he is fighting rebels funded, trained and based out of Sudan. Sudanese authorities deny they are backing these groups, even though their bases are on Sudanese territory.

Both Mr. Deby and Mr. Bozize came to power in coups, following drawn-out rebellions. They have stayed in power by winning elections widely viewed as fraudulent.

Security analyst Hendy says the European Union force could indirectly keep them in power.

"Even though one might not be so keen to say there is a democratic regime there, the problem is the international community cannot change them. [It] can only contribute to create a climate for regime change, but cannot change them anymore. It will be, certainly for the Central African Republic, more beneficial in terms of you are reinstating the legitimacy of the incumbent government," said Hendy.

The Central African Republic, like Chad, is a former French colony, and analysts say France's continued influence in both countries will also make the EU force prone to more political criticism, if it does deploy.

France was the lead advocate for the mission, but faced long budget battles to get EU.funding amid resistance from other European countries.