Potential Hot Spots: January 17, 2003


The Central African Republic continues to be plagued with instability. On the afternoon of the 16th, 25 missionaries of various nationalities who had been holed up for weeks in Gofo's Catholic La Ghirlandina mission (in the rebel-controlled north) were evacuated to neighboring Chad. The rebels claim that the mission attacks were conducted by criminal gangs not connected to their cause.

The missionaries have been trying to act as mediators in the fighting, chiefly to protect neutral civilians, which certain rebels might find irritating. The rebel center of gravity is the city of Bossangoa, where according to the missionaries religious sites (including the Bishops residence) have been repeatedly attacked. 

On the 15th, government troop reinforcements were sent to Bozoum, 384 km northwest of the capital. They also claim to still hold Bouar, 100 km southwest of Bozoum, but reports from the 14th insisted the town was under rebel control. Bouar is the last big town in the CAR on the way to neighboring Cameroon's Douala seaport. Almost all of the CAR imports and exports have to pass through Bouar. The town also has a former French military base, which is now a government army training camp.

That same day, the President also reshuffled his government, army and police leadership, but retained Prime Minister Martin Ziguele at his post. These cabinet moves (described as a "mere readjustment") takes place during a military crisis caused by the abortive 25 October 2002 invasion of the capital, Bangui, by rebels led by the former chief of staff, General Francois Bozize.

Patasse has appealed to France for troops to back up the 231 CEMAC Gabonese soldiers, adding that a French presence would also enable CAR to exploit its oil-rich northern area. With France currently embroiled in the Ivory Coast, this request will probably not be filled in the near future. - Adam Geibel


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