There may be trouble ahead: the government of president Patasse is in danger. But France won't help its former colony and ally. It has even withdrawn its troops stationed there.

Author:Ruane, Christopher
Position:Around Africa: Central African Republic - Felix Patasse

International attention may currently be focused on Cote d'Ivoire, but one story bound to unfold this year is the increasing likelihood of more infighting in the Central African Republic (CAR). The position of the democratically elected president, Ange-Felix Patasse (first elected in September 1993 and reelected in September 1999), is worsening and increasingly looks to be unsustainable.

Rebels mostly drawn from the CAR army already hold one-third of the country. They are led by ex-President General Kolingba and General Bozize. CAR is important because it enjoys a key strategic position at the heart of trade routes across Central Africa. This has ensured that neighbouring powers such as Chad are keenly watching events and rebel forces seem to be drawing support from at least one regional power.

The outcome in CAR is also of especial interest given the pending oil pipeline from Chad to Cameroon, scheduled to start pumping next year.

Another potential economic interest lies in CAR's uranium deposits, which it is not mining. Libya has to date lent strong support and military assistance to Patasse's struggle against the rebels.

Patasse remains in power only because he holds the capital Bangui. But his weakness even there was shown last year when the rebels took part of the city. His problems continue to mount and his power base in Bangui looks increasingly shaky.

Patasse's origins are in the north, which he has already lost to the rebels. The south -- including the capital -- is ethnically closer to the opposition and the remnant of the armed forces.

In Bangui, there are also signs of growing public dissatisfaction which could help any plotters. Public workers' mounting anger at a huge wage backlog is fomenting opposition support. The rebels' increasing control of the agricultural heartlands is also leading to some food shortages in Bangui.

The lukewarm approach of former colonial master, France, can be contrasted to that offered to the equally beleaguered President Laurent Gbagbo in Cote d'Ivoire where the French have deployed 2,500 troops and brokered the recent Paris peace deal.

By contrast, France has pointedly stopped military assistance for Patasse. In the past, France...

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