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Uneasy Calm Returns to Bangui - 2001-11-05


An uneasy calm has returned to the streets of Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, after a weekend of fighting between the presidential guard and followers of the country's dismissed army chief.

The violence tapered off by late Sunday but sporadic gunfire could be heard into the night. Shops and schools opened Monday in the capital, but a spokesperson at a Western embassy said banks remained closed.

Residents of the capital fear the unrest could lead to another round of bloodshed after a failed coup attempt in May and two previous army mutinies in 1996 and 1997.

Fighting broke out late Friday after President Ange Felix Patasse's troops attempted to arrest General Francois Bozize, the former chief of the army.

General Bozize was dismissed on October 26 without explanation. On Friday, a warrant was issued for his arrest hours after arms were found in three private residences. The weapons were discovered by a committee investigating the attempt to overthrow President Patasse on May 28.

Troops loyal to General Bozize have so far prevented his arrest, firing shots at government forces.

The general's supporters, members of his Gboya ethnic group, have set up a barrier on the main access road to his home, 10 kilometers north of the center of Bangui, near an army barracks housing several hundred men.

A standoff developed as pro-government forces set up position a kilometer further down the road.

Reports indicate pro-government security forces have confined themselves to securing main routes, and reinforcing the presidential residence. President Patasse's guard is strengthened by Libyan troops, who have been in Bangui since being sent to his rescue in May.

Bangui has blamed last May's unrest on former President Andre Kolingba and on army mutineers from the minority Yakoma ethnic group.