Bangui - Rebel fighters in Central African Republic seized
the presidential palace when they overtook the capital in March, though when it
came to setting up shop they set their sights a bit loftier: the city's sole
With no advance reservation, rebels armed with
rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikov rifles have turned the five-star
Ledger Plaza Bangui into the temporary seat of government. And rebel leader
Michel Djotodia is giving new meaning to the term presidential suite: His
luxury villa behind the drained swimming pool has a listed rate of about $3 850
Here, the heavily armed rebels stand guard inside a thatched
hut pool bar, and those fresh from the battlefield limp in stolen military
fatigues past businessmen in traditional embroidered robes and diplomats who
come to meet with the man who now rules mineral-rich Central African Republic.
There's the fever of an inauguration weekend in Washington —
only with truckloads full of turbaned rebel forces in the parking lot donning
"They came in from the villages and they are really
excited about being in the big city and seeing what they can collect and
capture and loot," one international aid worker said.
It's a rare uptick in business for the posh hotel that
opened in September, just months before the volatile capital descended into
Before the rebels took over the city, the Ledger was most
famous for being the place where ex-president Francois Bozize's son ran up a
$15 000 bill. Bozize had his son arrested over the unpaid hotel bill.
The ex-president went into exile March 24, after the rebels
breached the capital and as fierce fighting across Bangui left an untold number
of civilians dead.
New government appointments
The hotel is now home to the top brass who sleep in rooms
where executive suites start at $675 a night. The guests, from the rebel
alliance known as Seleka, arrived in the days of the invasion and it's not
clear how long they'll be staying, said the hotel's general manager Steven
The exact financial arrangements between the hotel and its
rebel guests are also unclear, and Hameeuw declined to comment. But some of
those in camouflage can be seen adding lattes and beers to their room tabs.
With its goose-down pillows, dry-cleaning service and
central air conditioning, it's a far cry from the rebel hinterlands of the
north that lack not only electricity but even paved roads.
Here, clocks in the lobby show the current time of day in
New York, Paris, Tripoli, Dubai and Beijing.
Hotel staff keep life humming at the only place in town with
24-7 electricity, running hot water and high-speed Internet. Cocktails are
served and fresh flowers put out each day even as rampant looting and volleys
of gunfire rock the rest of the city.
In the tiny business centre, officials put together and
photocopy their announcements of new government appointments for $1 a page.
There is no shortage of plush sofas where visitors await
their meetings with the ministers, many of whom have moved into private suites on
the hotel's top floor.
Most take their meals in private though rebel strongman
Noureddine Adam and Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye have been spotted at the
nightly dinner buffet that offers up everything from gourmet cheese platters to
guacamole to espresso-flavored mousse.
Out front, pick-up trucks full of armed rebels head out for
daily patrols. Other fighters sprawl out on the grassy lawn in the sweltering
On one recent afternoon, hotel staff could be seen
installing a metal detector at the hotel's main entrance.
"They're asking the rebels to keep their weapons
outside," one hotel security guard says. "They don't want to scare
the other guests."