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CAR rebels recruit troops for new army

05 April 2013, 07:42

Bangui - The Seleka rebels who staged a successful coup in the Central African Republic last month are recruiting troops for a new national army, though nobody has the means to pay them.

"Attention! Twenty men come out of the ranks," Corporal Valentin William Saba shouts at a group of about 100 men. Less than two weeks after taking power on March 24, the rebels are sifting out volunteers.

This week queues of several hundred people gathered outside barracks in the capital Bangui. Youths from all ethnic groups are being selected by the Seleka coalition.

Officially, the authorities claim that they are grouping soldiers into barracks ahead of a demobilisation, disarmament and social reinsertion (DDR) programme.

"The idea is disarmament rather than recruitment," says a source close to the government, while a diplomatic source pointed out that neither Seleka nor the state has the means to pay new troops.

However, the Seleka is trying not to discourage candidates, inviting supporters and opportunists alike to join its ranks, to mixed political and social ends.

Colonel Omar Bourdas, one of the top Seleka officers in charge of the general staff's barracks, explains, "It is not about rebels to be demobilised, but new elements for a new army. We know about politics. We are taking on young people to prevent them becoming bandits and thieves. They're out of work. Street kids who could become bandits.

"But, unlike the regime of Francois Bozize [the president ousted by the rebels] we are taking in everybody, whatever his ethnic group or religion."

About 300 people including many women are registered at Bourdas's barracks, with at least 1 000 more at Camp Beal.

Right look

"We are here because there's no work. We're unemployed and do shitty little jobs. We want to be in the army," says a soldier at Camp Beal, where many new recruits are shaving their heads, hoping to have the "right look".

"We suffered too much with Bozize. Now, it's a new regime," says Levis Aidouma Olamoko, 22, who drives a moto-taxi. "I didn't join Seleka because I was in Bangui."

Most recruits, Muslims and Christians alike and regardless of their ethnic stock, claim to be Seleka supporters keen to show their loyalty to the rebellion.

They are ready to sleep out under the stars, and some of the most prepared have brought pieces of cardboard with them to avoid lying on the bare ground.

The recruits include many women like Ella Judith Zolitmboa who says: "The country is not in good shape. I want to be a soldier to defend our country. I am not frightened of men."

Amadou Doly Alain denounces discrimination in Bozize's army. A law student, who several times failed recruitment tests, joins many other recruits in condemning corruption. "You had to pay 5 000 or 10 000 CFA francs [$10 to $13] to join the army," he says.

Doly Alain also dismisses the problem of over manning. "Our territory is vast. We need men to control the whole country."

Stephane Nganademon, who comes from the same ethnic group as the toppled president, says he was not prepared to pay to join the army. "I've wanted to be a soldier since I was 12. And then, I was asked to pay 5 000 CFA francs. I'm ready to die for my country, but I didn't want to pay to be dead."



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