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Central African Republic Troops Attack Mutinous Soldiers - 2001-11-07

The government of the Central African Republic says its troops have attacked mutinous soldiers in the northern half of the capital, Bangui, in a bid to end a five-day standoff. The reported attack comes in the midst of efforts by foreign governments and international bodies to mediate an end to the crisis.

Officials said government troops, backed by Libyan units, attacked mutineers loyal to the country's recently dismissed former army chief, General Francois Bozize.

Presidential spokesman Prosper Ndouba told VOA the loyalist soldiers had little trouble taking control of a military camp where the mutineers had been holed up since Saturday. Mr. Ndouba said General Bozize and a handful of soldiers have fled. That could not be independently confirmed.

Prior to Wednesday's alleged attack, the office of President Ange-Felix Patasse accused General Bozize of preparing a coup with what it called "foreign help."

The crisis began early Saturday, when soldiers tried to detain General Bozize in connection with a coup attempt in May.

However, troops belonging to the general's Gbaya ethnic group resisted the attempt to detain the former army chief, who is popular among rank-and-file soldiers. General Bozize's followers, bolstered by the defection of other regular army units, took up position in various neighborhoods in the northern part of Bangui.

General Bozize, who denies any role in the May coup attempt, had helped the president put down previous army mutinies in 1996 and 1997.

There has been sporadic gunfire between the mutineers and loyalist soldiers. Meanwhile, businesses complained that roadblocks disrupted the flow of goods into the city. Earlier this week, the mutineers even fired mortar rounds at the home of President Ange-Felix Patasse, but failed to reach their target.

Earlier, U.N. officials in the capital told VOA that negotiations to end the standoff would continue through Wednesday. They said mediators from the Organization of African Unity, as well as the foreign ministers of Libya, Chad and Burkina Faso, would take part in the talks.