Potential Hot Spots: March 15, 2003



Rebels loyal to former army chief Bozize captured the Central African Republic's airport, large areas of the capital Bangui and several presidential residences while the president was out of the country. Intense artillery and small arms fire began around 3:15 p.m. local time as the rebels entered the capital from the North. Thousands of singing and dancing civilians shouting "Patasse out!" looted Patasse's private residence while the rebels watched. The insurgents also occupied Patasse's official residence and offices in the capital, Bangui. The shooting decreased at the end of the day 

The situation is still too hazy to determine how much resistance the Presidential Guard offered or whether there were any casualties, although some soldiers were seen changing into civilian clothes. A rebel official claimed that the army didn't fight, partly because they support the rebels while the rest simply are remaining safely neutral. The national television and radio were off the air and government officials were not speaking about the attack, while rebel officials were not immediately available for comment. 

Bangui residents said the rebels were patrolling the banks of the nation's Congo River border, in order to keep out Congolese rebels who back Patasse. The civilians also claimed that Bozize would arrive in coming hours or days to take control of the city, although this could not be confirmed independently.

The attacks came while President Patasse was visiting Niger's capital for a meeting with Chad's President Deby, whom the CAR leader has accused of supporting Bozize. Deby has counter-accused Patasse of meddling in Chad's internal affairs. Patasse said after his meeting with Deby, "We're trying to evaluate the situation that's occupying our part of central Africa, to allow us to manage the situation together." 

Patasse's plane later landed safely in the Cameroon capital, Yaounde, after having turned away by gunfire while trying to land in Bangui. The French foreign ministry quickly castigated the coup, condemning "all armed attempts to overthrow legitimately elected heads of state. Only a political solution will allow Central Africa to escape the crisis." - Adam Geibel


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