CAR holds Slovak 'plotters'

2010-09-06 21:18

Bangui - Security forces in the Central African Republic have arrested Slovak nationals for plotting a coup, the Bangui government said on Monday, but Bratislava insisted the men were on safari.

"The government foiled an attempted coup d'etat from outside," government spokesperson Fidele Ngouandjika said by telephone.

Ngouandjika said that on September 1, defence forces arrested a group "of Slovakian nationality who entered the CAR illegally and who were plotting a coup d'etat."

But in Bratislava, the government stated there had been a misunderstanding and that its nationals were waiting to fly home.

"There was a misunderstanding. The Slovaks were not plotting, they were hunters on a safari in the Central African Republic with legally-owned guns," Slovak foreign ministry spokesperson Lubos Schwarzbacher said.

"After being arrested last Wednesday, they were released and got back their passports on Friday, and are waiting in their hotel for a flight home," he added.

On Friday, the internet site of the weekly Jeune Afrique reported the arrests of "around 10 armed people" at Nola in the Shanga region, more than 600km west of the capital.

Arrested at Nola

Ngouandjika said earlier that the Slovaks were "in the course of taking possession of a large cargo of arms and munitions" when they were arrested at Nola. He gave no details of the alleged coup plot against President Francois Bozize's regime, but said that an inquiry was under way.

"The government is not accusing any neighbouring country in this affair. Only the inquiry, I repeat, will find out who is responsible," he added.

The Shanga region borders on the Republic of Congo. The other neighbours of the landlocked CAR are Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.

The anouncement of the arrests comes almost six months after the Bangui government announced a previous foiled coup plot.

On March 13, National Security Minister Jules Bernard Ouande announced to state-owned media that the authorities had foiled a "plan of attack", which he said was meant to have been carried out in the week of March 15 to 20.

Ouande said that intelligence reports had implicated former president Ange-Felix Patasse, but he did not directly accuse him of being behind a coup bid.

Patasse denied any involvement.

The CAR is preparing for presidential and legislative elections in January after two delays. The polls are seen as an important step in the deeply poor and landlocked nation after a long peace process.

Bozize's government has sought to make peace with a range of rebel groups, most of which have signed up to the process, following years of insurgency, military uprisings and coup attempts.

General Bozize came to power himself in the coup that ousted Patasse in 2003 and was then elected president in 2005.