- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

BANGUI, Central African Republic (Agence France-Presse) The United Nations representative here praised interim Prime Minister Abel Goumba this week as someone who could unite the political classes and smooth the way to changes in this troubled country.
"I think that with him, the transition will be gentler and more effective," Lamine Cisse told reporters in the capital after the coup this month by former armed forces chief Francois Bozize.
The choice of Mr. Goumba, 76, a veteran opposition leader, would pave the way to complete democratic opening, said Mr. Cisse, special representative in the Central African Republic of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Mr. Goumba was appointed Sunday to head a transition government after Gen. Bozize overthrew elected President Ange-Felix Patasse on March 15 and declared himself head of state.
Mr. Cisse, a Senegalese general, said he knew Mr. Goumba well. "He has a very well-developed political and patriotic sense," he said.
"I think it's an advantage to have someone who can perhaps achieve unanimity among the political classes," he said.
This would include the former party in power, the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People, "because they, too, respect him."
Mr. Goumba, a widely respected politician in the Central African Republic, is leader of the Patriotic Front for Progress party and was until now head of a 12-member coalition of opposition parties.
He has pledged to rebuild the deeply divided, poverty-stricken country.
But the coup has been strongly criticized by African organizations and Western governments.
On Friday, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo called on African leaders to condemn the coup.
"I have been consulting with people on what we can do to restore democracy in that country as soon as possible," said Mr. Obasanjo, a former general.
Four African heads of state and government meeting in the Republic of Congo on Friday called for a "rapid return to constitutional order" in the Central African Republic. They condemned the ouster of Mr. Patasse but encouraged Gen. Bozize to pursue his commitment to peace and democracy.
The African Union's central organ for conflict-management last week recommended that the Central African Republic be suspended from decision-making organs of the pan-African body after the coup.

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