President Ange-Felix Parasse of the Central African Republic (CAR) owes a lot to Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. When rebels led by a former president, Andre Kolingba, attempted a coup against Patasse in May last year, entering the president's villa in downtown Bangui, the Libyan leader sent troops and tanks to shore up his ally.
In November last year, the Libyans once again rushed to Patasse's assistance, bombing rebel positions when the army chief, Gen Francois Bozize, overtook the north of the city.
The disgraced general was later asked to appear before the inquiry into the putsch but he refused, and was stripped of his rank before eventually fleeing to a village in southern Chad.
There are around 300 Libyan troops stationed in the country. The force remains firmly in the presidential camp and has little to do with the regular army.
"We don't mind being here. The country has lots of problems, but they don't affect us," said one Libyan soldier from under a tent outside the presidential residence.
But while the locals say the Libyans are saving the country from sliding into civil war, Western embassies arc not happy and have, thus, mobilised the local opposition parties and media against the Libyans.
"Most people see the Libyan troops as only protecting the president. The harassment of civilians by soldiers continues. There are still bandits in the country. So what protection do the Libyans offer the average citizen?," asked a journalist writing for the Confident, a weekly newspaper.
He added: "The independent press regularly vilifies the Libyan force. They say Libyan officials have tried unsuccessfully to bribe them with trips to Tripoli and promises of meetings with Colonel Gaddafi to change their stance."
On their part, the opposition parties have branded the Libyan deployment "unconstitutional" and are furious about unconfirmed reports that Gaddafi has suggested to Patasse to extend his presidential term beyond 2003.
Paul Bellet, the head of the largest coalition of opposition parties, said: "We resent the influence Gaddafi is having on our president and on our country. Our people were buried alive in their homes during the Libyan bombing."
Western diplomats say the motive for Libya's interest in CAR, with its population of 3.5 million, is as yet unclear.
Given the fact that the landlocked country is strategically placed at the centre of the continent, it has always been a battle ground for competing influences. They say Caddafi could be...