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Mine clearance under way

Central African Republic (CAR) army engineers have begun clearing antipersonnel and antitank mines laid by rebel forces loyal to the CAR former armed forces chief of staff, Gen Francois Bozize, when they invaded the capital, Bangui, in October.

"We started mine-clearance operations a week ago," Gen Zavier Yangongo, the junior defence minister in charge of disarmament and army reform, told IRIN on Monday.

Most of the devices, he said, had been laid on the road linking Bangui's northern and eastern suburbs. The affected suburbs were Ndress, Damala, and another 10 km north of the city centre. The mine-clearance operation was being carried out without any foreign funding or technical aid, Yangono said.

Bozize's forces, which engaged government and allied troops in Bangui from 25 to 31 October in an attempt to overthrow President Ange-Felix Patasse, were finally flushed out with the help of Libyan troops and rebels of Jean-Pierre Bemba's Mouvement de Liberation du Congo. It is unclear whether Bozize's men laid the mines to cover their retreat northwards.

This was the first time mines had been used in the country, Yangono said, adding that the weapon was not on the army's inventory. CAR signed the international convention banning landmines during the meeting of states party to the convention in Geneva from 16 to 20 September.

Meanwhile, the military situation in the CAR remains uncertain. The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator there reported on Sunday that the government was in control of Bangui and most of the western and southwestern parts of the country.

However, it said, displaced persons arriving in the capital had reported the presence of Bozize's forces at points 55 km from Bangui and in the cities of Damara, 76 km from Bangui, and Sibut, 188 km from Bangui.

"As of 10 November, there was still no circulation [traffic] between Bangui, Damara, and Sibut, and, by extension, all the way to Kabo in the north," the UN said.

Between 300 and 350 troops from the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) are expected in Bangui this week to protect Patasse and patrol the border between Chad and CAR.

The Libyan minister for African affairs, Ali Turayki, said on Radio France International on Monday that his country's troops would be withdrawn as soon as the CEMAC force arrived. He said that Libya had offered to help transport the CEMAC troops to Bangui.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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