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Rebels crack down on looting after C. Africa coup

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Rebel leaders in the Central African Republic have been cracking down on looters roaming the streets of the capital following the latest coup in the notoriously unstable nation.

Bandits, local residents and rebels themselves went on the rampage in Bangui after strongman Michel Djotodia's Seleka rebel coalition seized control in a rapid-fire weekend assault that forced president Francois Bozize into exile.

Djotodia was expected to unveil a new government after announcing he planned to rule by decree until elections in three years.

"There is pillaging everywhere, it's very hard to control anything," a soldier from the FOMAC African force told AFP on Tuesday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the fighting had left scores dead, but could not yet give precise figures.

Thirteen South African troops were among those killed, the nation's heaviest post-apartheid military loss, and Pretoria was facing increasing pressure from the opposition to explain what the troops were doing there.

While their official role of the 200-strong force was to train the poorly disciplined Central African troops, opposition politicians said it looked more like they had been there to prop up the now ousted president Bozize.

Bangui remained tense, with hundreds of people roaming the streets on foot, many looking for food, and rebel patrols occasionally shooting bursts of gunfire into the air to disperse onlookers.

In a bid to win the population over, Seleka forces were making a show of punishing those committing the looting.

In the Cattin area of Bangui, one rebel tied the hands of a looter to his feet behind his back and dragged him several metres on the ground -- his cries of pain drowned out by the applause of onlookers.

He was hauled into a pick-up and minutes later, another joined him. He was flogged with ammunition belts.

"Zero tolerance for looters," said General Moussa Mohammed Dhaffane, a Seleka member who was helping track looters, running down dusty streets, his gun drawn.

Djotodia, a former diplomat and civil servant who joined rebel forces in 2005, said he would keep Nicolas Tiangaye as prime minister in a power-sharing government. On Monday he said he was suspending the constitution and dissolving parliament and government.

"During that transition period which will lead us to free, credible and transparent elections, I will legislate by decree," he told reporters.

He did not rule out running in the elections, promised for 2016.

The African Union suspended the landlocked former French colony on Monday, imposing sanctions on Djotodia and other leading members of the Seleka coalition. The UN Security Council condemned the coup, threatening unspecified "further measures".

And on Tuesday, the United States warned it could freeze some $2.2 million in aid to the country, denouncing the looting as "unacceptable".

The UN's children agency UNICEF warned that the lives of thousands of children were at risk because of the lack of basic aid and food. It also denounced the exploitation of child soldiers in the country.

UNICEF's offices were also looted over the weekend.

Aid agency Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF) said the violence had prevented critically wounded patients from getting proper treatment. It said that its offices were also looted.

The change of power followed a lightning rebel offensive that shattered a January 11 power-sharing deal between the old regime and Seleka.

Bozize, who himself seized power in a 2003 coup, fled to neighbouring Cameroon.

An official there said he had spent the night in the luxury Hilton hotel in the capital Yaounde, but that negotiations were under way to ensure he left the country as soon as possible.

Bozize never delivered on his promises to harness the oil, gold and uranium wealth that remains largely untapped because of chronic instability, leaving the mineral-rich nation of 4.5 million woefully underdeveloped.

At the height of the chaos, two Indian nationals were shot dead by French troops as they approached Bangui airport in speeding vehicles Monday, a French defence ministry official said.

French President Francois Hollande expressed regret over the incident.

France recently sent in 300 troops to reinforce 250 soldiers stationed in its former colony, which has been roiled by a series of coups and mutinies since independence in 1960.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130327/rebels-crack-down-looting-after-c-africa-coup