Accessibility links

Breaking News

CAR Rebels Claim Control of Capital, Bangui - 2003-03-16

Rebels in the Central African Republic say they have seized control of the capital.

A spokesman for the rebels, Parfait Mbaye, read a statement on national radio, saying rebel forces are in full control of the capital, Bangui.

He urged the national military and other security forces to return to their barracks and wait for instructions.

He said he spoke for the leader of the rebels, former army chief Francois Bozize. General Bozize led an unsuccessful coup attempt in October, and then fled into neighboring Chad after it failed. But Mr. Mbaye said the general has returned to Bangui and will address the nation later.

The spokesman also urged residents of Bangui to stop looting the capital. A massive looting spree broke out after news of the coup Saturday. Thousands of people ransacked the homes of President Ange-Felix Patasse and other senior government officials.

A relative calm returned to Bangui by Sunday, although sporadic gunfire could still be heard around the city, apparently connected to efforts to stop the looting.

The coup came while President Patasse was out of the country, attending a regional summit in Niger. Rebels marched into the city, seized control of his office and the Bangui airport, and reportedly fired on the president's airplane when it tried to land.

The plane was diverted to nearby Cameroon, where Mr. Patasse is reported to be holed up in the Hilton Hotel in Yaounde.

Many of his top government officials in Bangui are said to be taking refuge in foreign embassies.

The government of President Patasse has survived a string of coup attempts since he took office 10 years ago. The last attempt, in October, was foiled by troops from Libya and rebel fighters from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Libyan troops have now left the country and been replaced by a small contingent of peacekeepers from neighboring central African countries.

Residents say neither the republic's army nor the peacekeepers offered much resistance Saturday as the rebels took over the city.