CAR militia trapped in palace

2014-03-04 18:33

(Shutterstock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

Berengo - Abandoned by their superiors, hiding from their enemies, several hundred Christian militiamen in the Central African Republic find themselves holed up in an abandoned palace, left to train with wooden Kalashnikovs and hunt mice for food.

Once home to self-styled emperor Bokassa I in the 1970s, the crumbling palace at Berengo, some 30km outside the capital Bangui, is consumed by undergrowth.

The gilt and white paint of the once-grand "imperial court" peels off the walls, rotting from damp. The vaulted ceilings are a haven for bats.

Its sprawling grounds appear deserted at first glance, until a line of men emerges in formation.

Around 50 take position in front of a swimming pool full of green sludge. A drill sergeant in shorts and a football top cries out: "Present Arms!"

The men follow the orders to the letter, but one detail stands out: the arms being presented are not real. The Kalashnikovs are made of wood, the rocket-launcher is a water-pipe, the mortars would not hurt a mouse.

These men were supposed to support the government of Michel Djotodia, who seized power in a coup last year with the help of his Seleka militia.

"It was president Djotodia who brought us here to give us military instruction," one of their number, 23-year-old Louis Degon Zambakoumba, told AFP later. "We have finished our training and we have been waiting ever since."

Unable to staunch an outbreak of sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians, Djotodia was forced to step down by the international community in January. His supporters have since faced brutal reprisals by an opposing anti-balaka ("anti-machete") militia.

While most of Djotodia's Seleka rebels were Muslims, the group stationed at the abandoned palace are all Christians. They numbered around 1 200 when they arrived in April 2013.

Lives catastrophic

In December, officers and instructors fled the palace as the mostly Christian anti-balaka militia approached.

A shared religion meant the palace trainees were not immediately targeted, but it is still too dangerous to venture far beyond the palace grounds.

"We are all Christians: Catholics or Protestants. There isn't a single Muslim here. But because of the troubles, we cannot leave," said Zambakoumba.

Out on the terrace, next to the carcass of a water slide by the pool, some men are cooking foraged roots. Another arrives with a mouse dangling from a wooden trap. They catch around 150 every day.

Other regular items on the menu: toads and fish from the pond.

"We sleep on cardboard boxes, we eat like pigs - our daily lives are catastrophic," said 24-year-old Patrick Mbetissinga. "But we are clean because we are soldiers."

They also nourish themselves on the hope that they will one day be integrated into the national army.

"We are sons of the country and we are well-trained militarily. They cannot abandon us," said Barnabe Metefara, 28.

Several kilometres away, at an anti-balaka check-point, there is sympathy for the fate of these Seleka Christians.

Good Seleka

"They are born Central Africans, they want to work with us. They are the good Seleka - not the bad Seleka that pillage and ransack," said Corporal Manou Mana.

A local village mayor, who has been in place for two decades, remembers the dilapidated palace when it was a "jewel" of Bokassa's regime.

A former non-commissioned officer in the French army, Bokassa seized power and appointed himself president in 1972. Five years later, he took the title of "emperor", as his eccentric regime descended into megalomania and violence - including claims that he ate some of his victims.

He was forced from power in 1979 after his personal guard massacred a hundred student protesters.

The mayor said the men now stationed at Bokassa's former palace must be brought into the fold.

"We must work for their integration into the army," he told AFP. "They have nothing, and it can only create more instability if we abandon them."

Read more on:    central african republic  |  central africa
NEXT ON NEWS24X

SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Fashion
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Friday Cape Town - 16:15 PM
    Road name: Wet Weather
    RAIN across the greater Cape Town area - drive with care and use headlights - Allow Extra Tavel Time
  • Friday Kuils River - 09:28 AM
    Road name: Polkadraai Road Eastbound
    ROADWORKS between the R102 Van Riebeeck Road and the R310 Baden Powell Drive exit - DELAYS
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2 TV Series for R250

Get 2 TV Series box sets for R250 and save up to R148! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing deals on beauty & fragrances

Save up to 30% off beauty and fragrances. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 50% off hair care products!

Save up to 50% on professional hair care products at kalahari.com. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off academic books

Score a mind blowing 30% off academic books! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing deals on electronics!

Save up to 35% on electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Samsung Galaxy S III 16GB

There are no straight lines in nature. The Samsung  GALAXY...

From R3795.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be putting too much effort into someone or something. You are doing it out of love and compassion but there is a chance...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.