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Asking For Forgiveness in CAR - 2003-10-07

The political party of former president Ange Felix Patasse has asked forgiveness from the people of the Central African Republic for the crimes committed during his time in office. After years of political instability, the Central African Republic is seeking to build a program of reconciliation.

The vice president of the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People, Hugues Dobozendi, has asked the people to forgive what he says were the "the losses of human lives, material damage, rapes and other actions" that were committed during the rule of Ange Felix Patasse.

According to party insiders, Mr. Patasse had been called on by the party to make the declaration himself, but he refused.

The plea was made before 350 delegates attending a national forum in the capital, Bangui, and broadcast on national radio.

The current president, Francois Bozize, who overthrew Mr. Patasse in a coup in 2003, set up the national forum. Attended by political and religious representatives, as well as civil society groups, it is tasked with developing a framework for the recovery of the Central African Republic from years of political instability.

Other pleas for forgiveness have been heard at the national forum. General Andre Kolingba, a former military leader, made a declaration of his own.

General Kolingba asked for pardon from those of his countrymen who had been the victims of violence, were deprived of their liberty, lost loved ones, who had their homes taken and their belongings pillaged during his time as president, or who were forced to take exile overseas.

General Kolingba was referring to the 12 years he ruled the Central African Republic and his attempted coup in 2001, when he sought to oust his successor, Ange Felix Patasse.

After making his declaration, Mr. Kolingba returned to his exile home in Uganda. Ange Felix Patasse, who has not made an appearance at the national forum, remains in exile in Togo.

The national forum is continuing this week, despite having been scheduled to end on Monday.

Land-locked Central African Republic is rich in natural resources that include diamonds, gold, oil and timber. Despite this, the country remains poverty-stricken after decades of political instability and economic mismanagement.