- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2002

BANGUI, Central African Republic Libyan troops that came to defend the Central African Republic's president from an attempted coup last May have stayed on, causing resentment in the country.
The events took an unexpected turn when the Libyan leader, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, sent troops and tanks to defend President Ange-Felix Patasse against the coup bid blamed on former President-turned-opposition leader Andre Kolingba and the Yakoma ethnic group.
About 300 soldiers and military advisers stayed on, guarding the presidential residence and sometimes the radio and television stations and airport.
The Libyans once again came to Mr. Patasse's aid in November, bombing rebel positions when dismissed army chief Gen. Francois Bozize overran the north of the capital, Bangui.
While some locals say the Libyan presence prevented an outbreak of civil war in the country, opposition is growing to the presence of the foreign force.
"We resent the influence Gadhafi is having on our president and on our country. Our people were buried alive in their homes during the Libyan bombing." said Paul Bellet, head of the largest coalition of opposition parties.
The Libyan force reports directly to the president's closest advisers, causing resentment in the army. "Patasse's lack of popularity among soldiers is already serious enough," a colonel said.
The presence of Libyan soldiers in Bangui has also created a rift between the Central African Republic and Chad, the northern neighbor that lies between Libya and the Central African Republic.
"The Chadians are always wary of Libyan intervention in the Central African Republic, especially as they have oil pipeline in the south of their country, near the border with the CAR," said a Western diplomat based in Bangui.
The United States has also expressed unease with Libya's increased involvement in the country.
Central African Republic's independent press regularly vilifies the Libyan troops.
"Central Africans are asking themselves: what have the Libyan done for us? Libya has a dream for an Islamic republic in Africa but we do not share that dream," said a recent editorial in the Citizen newspaper.
"Most people see the Libyan troops as only here to protect the president. The harassment of civilians by soldiers continues. There are still bandits in the country. So what do the Libyans offer the average citizen?" asked a journalist writing for the Confident newspaper.
The Central African Republic has a long-standing relationship with Libya. In 1976, the self-styled emperor, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, announced he was adopting the Islamic faith and the name Salah Eddine Ammed during a state visit by Col. Gadhafi.
But within hours of seeing the Libyan leader off at the airport, and after pocketing Libya's gift of $2 million, Mr. Bokassa announced he had converted back to Christianity.
Mr. Patasse, Mr. Bokassa's prime minister at the time, was also to adopt the Muslim name Mustapha.
However, for many years since then Col. Gadhafi has proved a strong ally of Mr. Patasse's, bailing him out of numerous fuel shortages.
Even though the Libyan ambassador to the country was killed in August 2000, Col. Gadhafi recently met with Gen. Bozize in an attempt to bring about reconciliation between him and Mr. Patasse.
Col. Gadhafi increased his involvement in African affairs last year, donating to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's re-election fund, helping Ghana with its fuel crisis and persuading Sudan and Uganda to restore diplomatic relations.
Libyan officials say troops have been sent to assist Mr. Patasse under the auspices of the Community of Sahel and Saharan States, of which both countries are members.
The regional group, known by the Arab initials CEN-SAD, was established in the Libyan capital Tripoli in 1998.
CEN-SAD agreed in December to send peacekeepers to the Central African Republic. Sudan, which currently presides over the group, has offered to lead the force, and Burkina Faso, Sudan, Mali and Libya have promised to contribute troops.
But other regional organizations including the Organization for African Unity (OAU) have not agreed to the deployment of peacekeepers, stressing the need for more dialogue between opposing factions.
At a foreign ministers' meeting of the OAU's conflict resolution organ in Tripoli in January the financial and logistical hurdles facing the creation of such a military force were highlighted. But Libyan officials say until a peacekeeping mission is deployed in the Central African Republic their troops will remain.
The army's strength, meanwhile, is much diminished after supporters of Gen. Bozize left with him for Chad and Yakoma soldiers fled during the coup attempt.
"We want to improve the security in the country. … If we left there would be a coup tonight," said a representative from the Libyan Embassy in Bangui.


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