October 31, 2009 / 4:05 PM / in 9 years

CAR's Patasse gets mixed welcome home from exile

* CAR’s ousted former president returns home

* Patasse to stand in 2010 presidential election

* Former leader’s return draws mixed reaction

By Paul-Marin Ngoupana

BANGUI, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Ange Felix Patasse, ousted as Central African Republic’s leader in a 2003 coup, returned from exile in Togo late on Friday and has vowed to stand in the country’s presidential election next year.

Dozens of supporters defied driving rain and heavy security to cheer his return, vowing to sweep him back into power. Others, however, remember abuses committed by Patasse’s forces and their allies during the fighting that ousted him and fear a return to instability and further violence.

Rich in gold, diamonds and uranium, CAR is one of Africa’s most isolated states, where a weak government is struggling to contain both internal rebellions that still simmer despite peace deals and the spillover from violence in Chad and Sudan.

"(Patasse) will indeed be a candidate and win the elections in 2010. That is why they are frightened of him," said Sosthene Guetel, vice president of Patasse’s faction of the MLPC party.

Patasse’s supporters, many of whom wore T-shirts bearing his face, were kept away from the airport by security forces.

"You can prevent us from welcoming him home but you can’t stop us from re-electing him president in 2010," an angry crowd chanted in the driving rain. Patasse returned to CAR via Libya.

The former president, who spent a few days in CAR last year to take part in peace talks before returning to exile in Togo, has returned to a country still led by President Francois Bozize who ousted him in a 2002-2003 war and won a 2005 poll.

Patasse’s main backer was Jean-Pierre Bemba, a Congolese rebel leader at the time who is now facing rape and war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court for crimes allegedly committed by his men who were fighting for Patasse in the war.

"It would have been wiser for Patasse not to come back for the elections," said Josue Saragba, a teacher in Bangui.

"I will never vote for him as I am not ready to forget the killings, the torture and the rapes committed by Bemba’s rebels that (Patasse) brought in," he added.



RETURN GETS MIXED REACTIONS

CAR held talks last year aimed at ending its cycles of violence, political crises and bush rebellions. An amnesty law was passed and Bozize, rebels and the civilian opposition have agreed to a consensus government until the 2010 polls.

But few rebels have disarmed, clashes continue and, after complaints over posts in the government, a new rebel alliance known as the National Resistance was launched earlier this year.

The United Nations said in July that fighting in CAR’s north had uprooted more than 125,000 people and many had fled violence and ended up living in the bush for years. The country is often overlooked because of higher-profile crises in Chad and Sudan.

In Patasse’s absence, Bozize has lured some investors such as French mining giant Areva to look for uranium. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund also granted some $800 million in debt relief earlier this year.

But the instability and a lack of confidence in Bozize’s government has led to mixed feelings on Patasse’s return.

"The presence of Patasse will make the next elections interesting and competitive," said Aimel Pougaza, a university professor. "Bozize will be nervous because Patasse is still very popular despite everything that happened."

Others, like farmer Issa Mamoudou, were less optimistic.

"He a son of CAR who has come home but if I could advise him, I would tell him not to try and return to power as, during his time in power, he was unable to pay the civil servants." (Writing by David Lewis; editing by Tim Pearce)




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