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Central African Republic - History

The Aka (pygmies) and other tribes lived in the area that is now the C.A.R. before the French gained control of the region. Little additional information is available about the territory before the French presence.

The C.A.R. was created from the Oubangui-Chari territory, a French-established trading outpost along the Oubangui River at Bangui. In 1910, the territory, along with Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), and Gabon became French Equatorial Africa. The French installed an administrative system that was primarily used to serve French mining and agricultural interests. In 1958, the C.A.R. was allowed internal self-government, and in 1960 it nominally became independent.

Bartelemy Boganda would probably have been the country's frrst president, but he was killed in an unexplained airplane accident in 1959. Although the Constitution adopted at independence mandated a democratically elected government, a one-party system was used. David Dacko, Boganda's nephew, served as president until 1966, when Colonel Jean-Bede! Bokassa seized power in a coup d'etat.

Bokassa concentrated power in the presidency; he abolished the constitution and dissolved the National Assembly. He became increasingly corrupt and ultimately declared himself emperor-for-life of the Central African Empire, a proclamation made in a lavish ceremony in 1976. In 1979, while Bokassa was in Libya, the French returned David Dacko to power. His regime, though heavily supported by the French, lasted less than 2 years.

In 1981, General Andre Kolingba seized power in a coup and installed a military government. In 1986, a new Constitution was adopted that allowed only one political party, and, in November, Kolingba was elected president under its auspices. Bokassa was tried and convicted of various crimes in 1987, but his death sentence was commuted by Kolingba.

During the early 1990s, Central Africans increased their demands for democratization and free and fair elections were held in 1993. Ange-Felix Patasse emerged victorious, and, following referendum in 1995, a new constitution was adopted.

In April 1996, soldiers in Bangui rioted, demanding their salaries (that had not been paid in months) and back pay. The mutineers were primarily Yakoma supporters of General Kolingba. The mutiny brought the city to a standstill. The soldiers mutinied again in May, and eventually they called for President Patasse to step down. The French again stepped in and there were exchanges of fire between rebels and French soldiers. All expatriates in the country were evacuated, and there was some hostility toward foreigners (mostly the French) displayed by Central Africans. In particular, the French Cultural Center was set on fire, and there were attacks on the French Sofitel hotel.

Peace was restored for a short time by a government reorganization, but in November 1996 soldiers again called for Patasse to give up power. The situation worsened in December and January 1997. The French again became involved and two French soldiers were ambushed and killed. The French retaliated with an attack on the rebel-held quarter of Bangui. In January 1997, the Bangui Accords were signed by Patasse, his rivals, and army mutineers. An African peacekeeping force (MISAB) consisting of troops from Gabon, Chad, Senegal, Togo, Burkina Faso, and Mali was sent to the C.A.R. to monitor the implementation of the accords.

Some of the rebels were reinstated in the army and most of the rebels handed in their weaponry. In early June 1997, however, the situation began to deteriorate. Fighting broke out between MISAB and the rebels (led by Captain Saulet) when a Senegalese peacekeeper was killed as he tried to prevent the theft of a vehicle by armed rebels. The rebel soldiers fired mortars at the French Embassy, injuring at least four French nationals. French soldiers returned to Bangui the next day and brokered a cease-fire that proved to be ineffective.

Fighting was accompanied by looting, and most of the general populace fled Bangui. Finally, a truce brokered by General Toure of Mali led to a cease-fue in early July, and later that in 1997 the United Nations announced it was sending a team, the UN Mission for the Central Africa Republic (MINURCA) to replace MISAB. MINURCA oversaw peaceful elections in late 1999; its mandate ended in mid-February 2000.

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