The Central African Republic is undergoing another new and humiliating phase of its story. The impoverished nation, bordering troubled Democratic Republic of Congo in the north, has a new head of state, Michel Djotodia, whose Seleka rebel forces seized the presidential palace on Sunday morning, forcing President Francois Bozizé to flee to DRC.
Djotodia has promised to hold ‘free and fair’ elections within three years, and to stick to the terms of the peace deal signed last month in Libreville and brokered by Congo-Brazzaville President Denis Sassou Nguessou.
General Bozizé’s whereabouts are currently unknown, but some reports suggest that he and his family were hiding somewhere in the Congolese northern town of Gemena, close to the border with the coup d’etat-hit nation. A DRC government spokesperson has since denied that Bozizé was in his country.
On Sunday the DRC government requested the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to transport 25 members of Bozizé’s family from Zongo to Gemena, Afrikarabia reported.
A total of 200 South African troops sent by President Jacob Zuma to save Bozizé could not stand the heat of 3 000 well-trained and heavily armed rebel forces of Seleka. Many fled, 13 were killed, one is missing and 27 injured, the South Africa defence ministry said in a statement last night. The wounded soldiers were evacuated to Pretoria on Monday.
South African Press Association (SAPA) reported earlier on that six South African soldiers were killed, citing local witnesses. President Zuma has saluted and honoured the fallen soldiers, saying they paid the ultimate price in the service of their country.
“As a member of the African Union, South Africa rejects any efforts to seize power by force,” Zuma said, labelling the Seleka rebel forces as ‘bandits’.
Runaway General Bozizé came to power in 2003, overthrowing Ange Felix Patassé, with the help of Chad’s 500 heavily-armed troops sent by President Idriss Deby.
Bozizé is a former ally of France and US, but reports from Paris and Washington suggest that he lost that support after his regime became authoritarian, silencing critical media and stifling political opposition through mass arrest, torture and mysterious killings. One journalist was killed last year, and many radio stations were ransacked by security forces.
Other sources from Bangui, the capital, suggest that Bozizé refused to give in to the West’s demands to sign ‘some major’ oil deals, and instead chose to do business with China via South Africa. Oil was discovered in the Central African Republic in 2010, and production was expected to start in April this year.