/ 26 October 2007

Central African Republic leader has a new strategy

The Central African Republic’s President defended his country’s efforts to improve human rights at international donor talks on Friday meant to bolster much-needed economic and political reforms in his impoverished nation.

Francois Bozize presented a new development strategy to European Union and United Nations officials in a bid to collect about $1,6-billion in aid to help pay for 300 projects included in the plan, ranging from building up his nation’s underfunded military to constructing roads, bridges and schools.

Bozize acknowledged that many parts of his country remain under the control of various rebel groups and vulnerable to neighbouring conflicts in Darfur and Chad, which he said are undermining efforts to fight poverty and bring stability.

The president, who seized power in a 2003 coup and was elected in a disputed 2005 vote, criticised a report by United States-based Human Rights Watch last month that said government troops were responsible for various atrocities at home against their own citizens.

The report said an elite unit of Bozize’s presidential guard had been behind the burning of villages and the killings of 30 civilians, including the beheading of a teacher in the north of the country, last year.

”The presidential guard is in charge of my security. They are not empowered to deal with internal security questions in the country,” Bozize told reporters, denying that his government forces were involved.

He said other allegations of human rights violations that occurred over the past two years by various militias have been recognised. ”It has been two years; measures have now been taken,” Bozize said.

He criticised the US group for conducting a ”clandestine investigation on the ground”, adding he and his government ”are available, at their disposition to meet with them” to discuss human rights concerns.

”Human rights are also hospitals, roads, schools,” Bozize said. ”We are undertaking a lot of efforts and making a lot of progress.”


Bozize told officials from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the EU and UN that his country is plagued by ”large-scale banditry”. He said it is a phenomenon that increases ”the poverty and idleness of a large part of the active population”.

He said he hopes that the arrival of a UN-mandated EU peacekeeping force, which will deploy in his nation’s north-eastern border region with Chad and Sudan’s Darfur region, will help stabilise the situation there and provide security for thousands of Darfur refugees.

About 500 EU troops will be stationed there as part of a 3 000-strong force. The Central African Republic and Chad are affected by the spillover of violence from Sudan’s Darfur region.

UN officials estimate that about three million people have been uprooted by conflicts in the region, including the fighting in Darfur and unrelated rebellions in Chad and the Central African Republic. The majority — about 2,25-million — are Darfuris displaced within Darfur.

The EU said it will spend about $196,03-million in aid over the next six years for the Central African Republic, a country that is often ignored by donors. The republic has suffered decades of army revolts, coups d’état and rebellions since the nation of 3,6-million gained independence from France in 1960.

Despite being landlocked, it is rich in gold, diamonds and other minerals, but its governments have chronically lacked funds, unable to meet payrolls of the military and civil servants.

International observers are growing increasingly concerned about instability in the region where Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic meet. — Sapa-AP