Scores of bodies discovered in CAR capital

2013-03-30 09:10

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Bangui – The Red Cross said it had found some 78 bodies in the streets of the Central African Republic’s capital since it fell to rebels last weekend, as jittery residents waited to hear about a new government.

Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye – who stayed on after the coup – was due to announce the composition of the new government soon, as the rebels tried to restore political stability after ousting President Francois Bozize.

“Since Saturday until today, our volunteers have found 78 bodies that were taken to the morgues.... We ask the population to come to these sanitary institutions to identify the bodies with a view to taking them away for burial,” Red Cross official Albert Yomba Eyamo told AFP yesterday.

The United Nations meanwhile has warned tens of thousands of people in the impoverished and notoriously unstable country face severe food shortages.

Drinking water and electricity were cut off in parts of the capital Bangui, whose seizure on Sunday by the Seleka rebel coalition – led by strongman Michel Djotodia – forced Bozize to flee and sparked a rampage by groups of armed looters.

Many claimed to be members of the Seleka, which means “alliance” and was formed by three rebel movements.

News of the death toll cast a shadow over celebrations for Central African Republic’s national day yesterday that commemorates the nation’s founder Barthelemy Boganda, who paved the way for independence from France in 1960.

“Usually, there are more people, but today people can’t get around and they are frightened of moving around,” said the resident, who asked not to be named, at a ceremony with about 300 in attendance.

Boganda “is a symbol, he did a great deal for our country,” said Peter Banguima, a butcher, who said he was concerned to see what he called “the Muslims” of the Seleka coalition in power.

Bangui city centre was quiet yesterday and a handful of taxis had the streets to themselves as looting and unrest petered out.

Business and administrative activities are due to resume on “Tuesday at the latest,” a day after Easter Monday, Seleka spokesman Christophe Gazam Betty said earlier this week.

The rebels toppled Bozize on the grounds that he had failed to honour the terms of the January peace pact, signed in the Gabonese capital of Libreville after a first rebel offensive.

Bozize fled to Cameroon and has asked for asylum in Benin, according to Benin’s Foreign Minister Arifari Bako.

Sources said Bozize had been abandoned by his Chadian allies, who had helped him grab power in a 2003 coup.

According to a source close to the Seleka, Chadian sympathisers had even contributed financially to their rebellion.

“It’s difficult to believe that (Chadian president Idriss) Deby was not aware of this. If he didn’t encourage it, he certainly let it happen,” the source said.

Djotodia, a former diplomat and civil servant who went into rebellion in 2005, said on Monday that he intended to lead the country for three years, until polls are organised.

And yesterday, he hinted he would not stand for election in 2016.

“We will act in the spirit of the accords signed in Libreville,” he told reporters in Bangui.

“It was said in Libreville that those who will be leading this country will not stand in the presidential election.”

Many political figures have said they will work with Djotodia to restore order.

Gathered at a Bangui hotel which the rebels use as a base, Cyriaque Gonda, who led the presidential majority under Bozize, said he and his colleagues “have decided to make ourselves available“, because Djotodia has said he is ready to work within the spirit of the Libreville accords.

The Central African Republic has been highly unstable since its independence in 1960.

Coups d’etat, mutinies, persistent pay strikes and rebellions have prevented the exploitation of potential national wealth in the shape of uranium, gold and diamonds.

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