Exclusion drives Central African Republic revolt and, this time, France won't intervene

Mon Jan 7, 2013 5:08am EST
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By Pascal Fletcher

(Reuters) - The French dubbed it the neglected "Cinderella" of their African colonial empire; modern observers have called it a "phantom state".

Landlocked, isolated and poverty stricken despite reserves of gold, timber, uranium and gemstone quality diamonds, Central African Republic has been racked by rural rebellions for more than a decade.

In the latest flare-up, loosely-allied insurgents, demanding an end to years of exclusion from government, closed in on the capital Bangui over Christmas and the New Year, forcing President Francois Bozize to agree to talks about his future.

These negotiations under the auspices of the Central African regional grouping ECCAS are to open in Libreville, Gabon this week. They have the backing of the U.N. Security Council, which says CAR's crisis cannot be resolved militarily.

While lacking the strategic attention gained by other African hotspots such as Somalia, Mali or eastern Congo, Central African Republic nonetheless remains a festering sore of instability at the heart of an economically buoyant continent.

Some of the root causes of this lie in its history as a colonial backwater. This was compounded after independence in 1960 by a history of coups and bloody mutinies, French military meddling, and an interlude of rule by one of the world's most bizarre and extravagant modern-day emperors, Bokassa I.

Bozize, who served as general in Bokassa's 1976-79 "Empire" and then seized power in a 2003 coup before winning a 2005 election, opened a so-called Inclusive Political Dialogue with his rebel foes in 2008.

But his failure to deliver genuine power sharing, followed by his re-election in 2011 polls which the opposition boycotted over alleged fraud, has led directly to the December offensive by the Seleka, or Alliance, of five armed rebel groups.   Continued...

Central African Republic soldiers walk on a street in Bangui December 31, 2012.REUTERS/Luc Gnago