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Central African Republic Thwarts Rebellion - 2002-10-31

Loyalist forces in the Central African Republic's capital, Bangui, are mopping up one day after the government announced it had regained control of the city following a six-day rebel assault. The conflict drew the involvement of a number of nations.

The Central African government's victory over rebels in Bangui this week came largely with the help of Libyan troops who have been deployed in the country to protect President Ange-Felix Patasse since last year.

The assault over the past week was the latest in a long series of army mutinies and coup attempts that have been launched against Mr. Patasse since he was elected nine years ago. Mr. Patasse's election in 1993 ended a long period of military rule. While popular at first, the Central African president has seen his list of political enemies grow in recent years, and his army remains deeply divided along both political and ethnic lines.

As a result of the divisions, Mr. Patasse has had to resort to foreign countries for military support. Following a coup attempt last year, the Central African leader accepted the deployment of Libyan troops who have since remained in the country to protect him.

In the latest fighting, the Central African army also received support from Congolese rebels of the faction loyal to Jean-Pierre Bemba.

President Patasse has not appeared in public nor has he made any statements since the rebel assault began on Friday. Officials at the presidency, however, say the president is in Bangui and is unharmed.

Reports from Bangui say his chief spokesman, Prosper Ndouba, was taken hostage by rebels and has not been heard from for several days.

The six-day assault was led by rebels loyal to former army chief General Francois Bozize, who went into exile in Chad last year after he was sacked by President Patasse.

General Bozize's presence on Chadian soil has strained relations between Chad and the Central African Republic. The tensions resulted in a series of skirmishes along the Central African-Chadian border earlier this year.

During the latest fighting, Central African state media accused Chad of sending troops to help the rebels in their assault on Bangui, a claim that was not independently verified.

French officials say General Bozize is currently in France.