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CAR:  Looting and Minor Violence Continue Following Coup - 2003-03-18

The rebels who have taken over the Central African Republic are trying to stop widespread looting.

Low-level violence is continuing in the capital, Bangui, as rebels try to bring the looting under control. Residents say heavily armed rebels are shooting people who fail to obey their orders to stop looting. But some reports say a few rebel fighters have taken part in the looting, or have commandeered civilian vehicles.

Thirteen people have been reported killed in the unrest since the rebels took over Saturday.

Many businesses in the city remain closed, if they have not been destroyed by the mobs that rampaged through the city in the days after the coup. But reports say life is returning to normal in some sections of the capital.

The leader of the coup, former army chief Francois Bozize, has asked the Central African Economic and Monetary Community to send more peacekeepers to the country. More than 300 central African peacekeepers are already there, and offered little resistance to the rebels who took over the city Saturday.

The French news agency, AFP, says the foreign ministers of Gabon and the Republic of Congo are in Bangui for talks with General Bozize, who has declared himself head of state.

The African Union's central committee on conflict management has recommended suspending the Central African Republic until the democratically elected government is returned to power.

It is the second time the AU has recommended such a move. It suspended Madagascar last year after what AU officials considered an unconstitutional change of government.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has also called for the quick restoration of constitutional order, and the respect of human rights.

Meanwhile, France has sent about 300 troops to its former colony to help evacuate foreigners. The French soldiers are based at the airport. In addition to protecting foreigners, they are also supposed to shore up the central African peacekeeping force, which had three Congolese peacekeepers killed during the coup.

The Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world, despite its rich mineral resources. The democratically-elected president, Ange-Felix Patasse, survived a string of coup attempts before finally being ousted Saturday while he was out of the country.

He is currently staying in a hotel in Cameroon, under tight security.