Bangui (Central African Republic): Central African Republic President Francois Bozize on Sunday unveiled a new national unity government, handing the key defence portfolio to former rebels who nevertheless said they were short-changed.
“We feel a sense of relief that we have set up a new government,” Bozize said over national radio after sometimes fraught negotiations with the former rebels as well as opposition figures.
The unity government is the fruit of a 11 January peace deal that ended a nearly month-long insurgency in the impoverished landlocked state.
But Sunday’s announcement caused an outcry from the political wing of the rebel grouping known as Seleka (“coalition” in the country’s Sango language).
Even though Seleka leader Michel Djotodia was named deputy prime minister as well as defence minister, the new forest minister, also from Seleka, rejected the line-up.
“We don’t recognize this government and we don’t have enough ministries,” said Mohamed Moussa Daffhane.
Nicolas Tiangaye, an opposition figure who was named prime minister shortly after the 11 January peace deal, was given the finance portfolio.
Another Seleka representative, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed “surprise” at the appointments. “The proposals we made to the prime minister have not been taken into account. ... We proposed seven or eight names for defence, foreign affairs and international cooperation,” he said.
Besides the defence portfolio, the rebels will head the communication and forest ministries in the new 32-member government, greatly expanded from the outgoing line-up of around 20.
General Antoine Gambi, who is close to the president, will be a junior defence minister in charge of a programme to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate the rebels in the coup-prone country.
Aside from the finance ministry, the presidential camp has also kept the foreign affairs, security and mining portfolios—the latter a strategic post in the mineral-rich country.
On Friday, Seleka accused Bozize of flouting the peace deal by trying to keep the defence portfolio for himself.
Daffhane said the former rebels would consult “to see what we can do,” leaving a shadow of doubt hanging over next week’s planned inauguration.
Meanwhile the presidential camp charges that Seleka militants are continuing to loot and commit other abuses in the northern cities where they are still present. The agreement signed in the Gabonese capital Libreville demanded a ceasefire and called for the rebels to withdraw from occupied areas.
Also under the deal, Prime Minister Tiangaye will remain in his post during a one-year transition period until parliamentary elections are held.
Under the plan, Bozize—who has led the country for nearly a decade after taking power in a coup in 2003 and was subsequently elected twice—will serve out his mandate, which ends in 2016.