Interview with Col Daoud Soumain Khalil, commander of Chadians forces in Bangui
BANGUI, 1 April 2003 (IRIN) - Francois Bozize and his fighters
met little resistance as they carried out a successful coup on 15 March against
the Central African Republic president, Ange-Felix Patasse.
As a wave of massive looting engulfed Bangui, the self-declared President Bozize called on the Chadian government to send troops to help restore law and order. A Chadian contingent arrived on 19 March and immediately began securing the capital, disarming looters and recovering stolen property.
IRIN talked to Col Daoud Soumain Khalil, the deputy chief of staff of the Chadian army and commander of the Chadians in Bangui, about his mission. The following are excerpts from the interview on 30 March.
QUESTION: How many Chadian soldiers are currently in the CAR?
ANSWER: Our soldiers in the CAR number about 400 [but] we have started to reduce them. The first 50 soldiers have already left. I, together with 50 other soldiers, am leaving next week. Only 300 soldiers will stay here and they will join the CEMAC [Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States] force very soon.
Q: Are you here within the CEMAC framework, or is your presence part of a CAR-Chad military cooperation?
A: The Chadian government sent us here at the request of the CAR authorities. Our mission is to help restore security in Bangui. After 15 March, there was too much looting and disorder. The situation was beyond the control of the new authorities. That is why the CAR head of state, Francois Bozize, asked his counterpart, Idriss Deby of Chad, to send some troops to help him restore security in Bangui. Our mission was to disarm anyone bearing a firearm, which we have already done. When we arrived, we set up roadblocks at junctions and on all main roads to disarm people.
Q: Did you disarm the former CAR armed forces and Bozize's former fighters?
A: Most of those we disarmed were Bozize's former combatants. Only those in Bozize's protection unit were not disarmed. Bozize's former fighters made up 90 per cent of the disarmament cases we dealt with. Whenever we come across soldiers of the former regime, we disarm them too, though most avoided this because they keep their arms at home. Also, many civilians were disarmed. There were some individuals who attempted to resist, and then we had to use force, but casualties were minor.
Q: How many firearms have you recovered so far?
A: We recovered 1,300 firearms, small and heavy ones, and 270 stolen vehicles. After the handing-over ceremony [on 25 March], searches continued. We now have about 200 more firearms, which I am to hand over to the supreme authority [Bozize] very soon. Every day, we recover looted goods either from information given by people, or during our daily operations.
Q: Have you captured any fighters loyal to Col Abdoulaye Miskine? [He was allied to former regime and believed by Chad to be a former Chadian rebel leader].
A: They have melted into the population. I do not know whether they were among the civilians who were disarmed or whether they have run away. We have heard that they might have taken the road to Mbaiki [107 km southeast of Bangui].
Q: What about those who previously fought for Miskine and later joined Bozize's troops?
A: All of them were recruited by the former president [Ange-Felix Patasse]. Some of them deserted to join Bozize. We have disarmed all of them, except those who protect the president.
Q: Does not your rapid intervention - just four days after the coup - confirm the allegations by the former government that Chad was behind Bozize?
A: We came in response to the CAR president's request. The request was formally addressed by Bozize to his Chadian counterpart, who instructed the army to intervene immediately.
Q: Are your troops going to be deployed throughout CAR?
A: Our troops will be under the command of the CEMAC force commander. It will be up to him to share tasks among contingents and send them where they are needed.
Q: Normally, the CEMAC force commander-in-chief comes from the contingent with the largest number of soldiers. Will Chad take command of the force?
A: We found on the ground an already organised structure. We are here to reinforce it. We have no ambition to command the force.
Q: There are those who say the Chadian troops are here to face a possible attack on Bangui by Jean Pierre Bemba [leader of Congolese rebel Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo]'s militiamen. What do you say to that?
A: The recent CEMAC Summit redefined the force's mission. The force will have to respond to any external aggression. I have not yet read the content of the new mission but it certainly has been redefined. The force is authorised to defend itself with the means at its disposal.
Q: Do you fear any such attack, as the CAR served as an MLC base through which arms, ammunition and fuel used to be channelled into MLC-controlled northern Democratic Republic of the Congo?
A: No fear at all. Why should Bemba attack the CEMAC force of the CAR? To gain what? Bemba has no interest in attacking the CAR. I do not think he will attack.
Actualité Centrafrique de sangonet - Dossier 16 | Visite à Bangui du ministre tchadien de la défense et distinction pour le colonel Ismain Daoud (04 mai 2003)