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Date: Sat, 18 Jan 97 23:33:59 CST
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Rebellion In Central Africa Stings Paris

Rebellion In Central Africa Stings Paris

By Megan Arney, The Militant, Vol. 61, no. 4, 27 January 1997

Soldiers in the Central African Republic have been in a rebellion for the last two months in the capital city of Bangui, against government and French forces. This uprising, in addition to crises in Zaire, Rwanda, and Burundi, highlights the ongoing resistance to imperialism in the area, the weakening of Paris's domination, and the increasing tensions between the rulers of France and the United States in their rivalry for domination of the resource-rich area.

The latest rebellion in the Central African Republic - the third in less than a year - continues at press time, with negotiations taking place between rebel soldiers and the French-backed government of President Ange-Felix Patasse. Starting on November 15, some 200 soldiers entered Bangui, taking an army base on November 16. They demanded back wages and a pay raise, saying that they had not been paid in months. Many workers in the country had also not been paid for months. By the beginning of December, rebel soldiers were also calling for the ouster of Patasse.

Two other rebellions, in April and May of last year, were put down by French imperialist troops. In May 10,000 people poured into the streets of Bangui to protest the French military attacks aimed at crushing the army rebellion. Defying a ban on demonstrations, the protesters continued for three days. They shouted from the streets, "Death to the French!" and other anti-French slogans, and razed a French cultural center.

Confronting the rebels are presidential guards, backed by a beefed-up force of 2,000 French soldiers who are based in the former colony of Paris. In early December, rebel soldiers fired mortars at a French-owned hotel in Bangui, opening a two-hour fire fight with French troops and the presidential guards. Throughout December, rebel soldiers seized main parts of the city, including the main armory, according to news agency and radio reports from the capital.

On January 5, French troops - using armored cars and helicopter gunships - attacked the rebel troops. Among those killed were 21 rebel soldiers, and 11 civilians. The French defense minister claimed the raid was a "legitimate defense" in reprisal for two French soldiers killed January 4. Another defense spokesman was cruder, saying, "No one kills French soldiers and gets away with it," according to the Economist, a British magazine.

Extensive French military in Africa

France has seven military bases in its former African colonies, totaling 9,000 troops, and maintains "military cooperation agreements" with 23 countries in sub-Sahara Africa. Paris maintains its second-largest military establishment on the continent in the Central African Republic.

Since launching an assault on Gabon in 1964, Paris has militarily intervened on the African continent an average of once a year - 35 times in 34 years.

While Paris's minister of foreign assistance, Jacques Godfrain, implied French forces were acting to maintain "the democratic state," other government officials have been more blunt about Paris's interest in central Africa. Former minister of foreign assistance Bernard Debre' told Juene Afrique last year, "For France, Africa is also a market. Not a captive market, certainly, but not a sieve either. When we aid a country, we must have a minimum in return."

The Central African Republic is among a number of mineral-rich African countries plundered by Paris. In 1992, 74 percent of the country's exports went to France. The main exports are coffee, diamonds, timber, and cotton. More than 400,000 carats of gem diamonds were mined in 1992, which provide about 27 percent of the country's exports. There are also significant deposits of uranium.

The African franc (CAF) is the currency shared by 13 central and western African countries. Former French prime minister Edouard Balladur and then-foreign minister Alain Juppe' - now the prime minister - accepted the International Monetary Fund's urging and devalued the CAF, which is pegged to the French franc, in 1994. This effectively slashed by half the buying power for imported goods of workers and peasants in the 13 African countries that use the CAF. The Central African Republic bought 51 percent of its 1992 imports from France.

Living conditions for workers and peasants in the Central African Republic are among the worst in Africa. Life expectancy is 42.5 years and in 1992 the adult illiteracy rate was 62 percent. Arable land makes up 3 percent of the country, and 85 percent of the labor force is in agriculture.

History of Central African Republic

Paris colonized central Africa in 1894. The Central African Republic was created by French imperialists to allow French businesses to produce rubber and mine diamonds there. Hit with an upsurge in colonial struggles, Paris was forced to grant the country independence in 1960, but has continued to prop up governments there that serve French interests. David Dacko became the first president after independence.

Jacques Foccart, who was an adviser to French dictator Charles de Gaulle and his two successors, recently boasted how he had run Africa like a proconsul, appointing presidents, sacking them, and getting their opponents killed by French secret-service agents, according to the Economist.

Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who seized power in a 1965 military coup, proclaimed himself constitutional emperor in 1976. Bokassa's rule was marked by ruthlessness. He was backed by France for years, supported by hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. In his recently published book, Foccart recalled that Bokassa was "a very francophile military man." Only after a massacre of school children in 1979 did the French government organize a coup to oust Bokassa.

At the time the urban masses of the Central African Republic were mobilizing against Bokassa. Serious opposition to the regime began to emerge in January 1979. Students demonstrated and were joined by workers and residents from Bangui's poorest sections. Workers went out on strike, and several underground groups formed. Police arrested scores of activists and students. The French regime of Vale'ry Giscard d'Estaing felt it was necessary to step in directly to protect French political and economic interests there.

In September 1979, French military transport planes carrying hundreds of troops arrived in Bangui. They brought with them Dacko, who had spent the previous two months in France. With the backing of Paris, Dacko declared himself president once again. The current Patasse government came to power in 1993, and today continues to receive the support of Paris.

The 1979 coup came in the context of a broader French imperialist offensive in Africa, including bombing raids against Western Saharan freedom fighters, direct military intervention against Chad, and - in direct collusion with Washington - the sending of troops to douse rebellions in Zaire. Washington heralded the Paris-made coup. A U.S. state department spokesman at the time responded, "Vive la France!" And an editorial in the Sept. 25, 1979, Wall Street Journal lamented that the political climate was not conducive to a U.S. intervention, no matter what "the size of U.S. interests" involved.

Today, as rivalries between Washington and Paris intensify, the tone is not so enthusiastic. In a January 10 editorial headlined "The Virtual Empire," the Wall Street Journal declared that France's "purposes of past interventions has not been nearly as altruistic." Instead, "the combination of substantial business interests and the grandeur afforded by having a 'virtual empire' more often appear to be the main drivers of French policy." Recent tension points between the rulers of France and the United States include central Africa, the Mideast, and control of NATO forces in southern Europe.

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