Rebels in Central African Republic Seize Capital

Church Structures Reportedly Looted

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BANGUI, Central African Republic, MARCH 17, 2003 (ZENIT.orgFides).- Central African Republic rebels who call themselves patriots have taken the capital, Bangui.

Rebel troops led by former army chief Francois Bozize entered Bangui on Saturday after fierce fighting.

The rapidity with which the rebels took the capital did not surprise local missionaries, contacted by Fides service. «We felt something was going to happen at the beginning of last week when the troops led by Jean-Pierre Bemba left Central Africa,» one missionary said.

Bemba leads the rebel Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), which supported Central African President Ange-Félix Patassé.

«The MLC was Patasse’s stronghold,» one missionary told Fides, adding that «without them the regular army found itself in great difficulty, because it is very weak.»

Recently there were clashes between Bemba’s men and their Central African allies, probable symptoms of a deeper rift which was fatal for president Patassé, who was in Niger when the capital was taken.

The fact that the president was not in Bangui may have been another reason for the low morale of his men who put up little resistance to the advancing rebels, the missionaries reported.

In Bangui, Fides sources say Church structures have been looted. «The interdiocesan center for missionaries who work in the forest was sacked,» a missionary said. «The center is run by a group of sisters, French and African, who luckily escaped unhurt. It is still not known who attacked the center.»

While the situation in the capital is precarious, it is relatively quiet in other parts of the country.

Missionaries in Bouar, a large town about 440 kilometers (270 miles) from Bangui, say the situation is calm because last Thursday the rebels in this area moved toward the capital obviously in view of the attack. «There were a few soldiers, but they fled using every possible means,» one source told Fides.

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