Regional troops patrol Bangui streets

2013-03-26 22:21
A statue of a soldier holding a national flag in Bangui. (Sia Kambou, AFP)

A statue of a soldier holding a national flag in Bangui. (Sia Kambou, AFP)

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Bangui - Central African troops patrolled the streets of the Central African Republic's capital on Tuesday, to curb looting that has continued since a military coup overthrew a fragile government.

"We are currently seeking to stop the looting... We will try to get hold of thugs who disguise themselves as [members of the] Seleka [rebel coalition] to disturb the tranquillity of the population," said an officer from the Economic Community of Central African States' military force on Tuesday.

After a brief lull, sporadic gunfire could again be heard on Tuesday in several areas of the capital Bangui, witnesses said.

The Seleka rebels at the weekend took over Bangui and the presidential palace, as well as the TV and radio stations as former president Francois Bozize fled to neighbouring Cameroon.

The rebels have long accused Bozize of breaching a 2007 peace deal and launched an offensive in December.

Late on Monday, rebel leader Michel Djotodia - who had declared himself the new president and said he would hold democratic elections within three years - suspended the country's constitution, dissolved parliament and announced he would rule by decree, according to France24 television.

According to the head of the Africa programme of London-based think tank Chatham House, the Seleka coalition "has not shown that it can offer a better future and has over recent months committed human rights abuses and extracted tribute from those passing through or living in areas it controls."

"In reality their only vision is to become a government and provide patronage to their supporters," Alex Vines wrote on Monday.

As the self-proclaimed president of the CAR has suspended the constitution, hospitals in the country's capital have become devoid of medical staff and civilians are staying indoors even if wounded, aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said Tuesday.

70 wounded

After touring all the major hospitals in Bangui following the Seleka military coup, MSF said they found that there were "zero medical personnel on site [and] not even a cleaner".

Following the weekend battles, in which 13 South African troops lost their lives, there were 70 wounded people at a military hospital waiting for treatment on Sunday and about two dozen still waiting on Monday, said MSF staff member Sylvain Groulx in Bangui. The number of wounded included civilians as well as fighters.

He added the civilian casualties was hard to assess "because of the insecurity, most people don't attend the hospital. . There is no public transportation, it are only the Seleka people out in the streets," he said.

"It's like a holiday in the sense that nothing is open. . There are remnants of looting on the streets ... and sporadic gunfire at night but a lot less then before ... we are told they're shooting in the air," he said.

After the battles on Sunday, the rebels visited the South African soldiers and expressed "regret," the South African Press Agency quoted the South African National Defence Force spokesperson as saying on Tuesday.

"The leaders of the rebels came to the base, and discussed what happened on the ground, and they regretted exchanging fire with SANDF soldiers," Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said.

The incident has sparked a debate on whether it should withdraw its troops from the CAR.

The UN Security Council on Monday "strongly" condemned the military-led coup, and criticized the ensuing violence and looting. The African Union suspended the country's membership and imposed sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against the rebels.

A Congolese minister on Monday told Kinshasa-based Radio Okapi, that "thousands of people" have fled to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo since Saturday.

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