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Former Central African President Patassé is Dead

Ange-Félix Patassé, the former Central African Republic (CAR) president, who invited Jean-Pierre Bemba’s troops into the country during the 2002-2003 conflict, passed away earlier this month. His death came before the International Criminal Court (ICC) had closed its investigations into those who could be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity in relation to that conflict.

Moreover, throughout last week, the Prosecutor-General of the CAR told Mr. Bemba’s trial at the ICC that a judicial probe he led concluded that Mr. Patassé bore command responsibility for the mass rapes, killings, and looting conducted by Mr. Bemba’s soldiers as they helped the head of state fight a coup attempt.

According to various media reports, Mr. Patassé, 74, died on April 5, 2011, at the Douala Referral Hospital in Cameroon. The cause of death was unclear.

Mr. Patassé’s spokesperson, Guy-Simplice Kodegue, was quoted by the AFP news agency as stating that the former president was diabetic and had been hospitalized for four days last month. Supporters of the former president claimed the current government led by Francois Bozizé twice last month blocked Mr. Patassé from leaving the country for a medical check-up. Government officials denied these claims.

Following his ouster by Mr. Bozizé’s forces in March 2003, Mr. Patassé fled into exile, only returning home in December 2009 to contest a presidential election. Earlier this year, he lost the poll to Mr. Bozizé, whose capture of power in 2003 saw Mr. Bemba’s fighters make a hasty withdrawal back to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mr. Bemba is on trial at the ICC for allegedly failing to rein in his soldiers, who brutalized Central African civilians. He has denied the charges, arguing that once his soldiers crossed into the CAR, they fell under Mr. Patassé’s command and that it is him who should be on trial at The Hague-based court.

Last week, Central African Prosecutor-General Firmin Feindiro said a judicial probe he led concluded that once the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) troops were in Bangui, they took orders from Mr. Patassé.

In his report to court, the CAR Prosecutor stated that Mr. Patassé coordinated the military operations against the insurgents. “When an offensive or counteroffensive was organized, it was the president that organized it…This has been borne out by General [Ferdinand] Bombayake, who maintained that it was Patassé who decided on everything, and that he [Bombayake] would only implement the instructions received,” said the report.

Mr. Bombayake headed the United Presidential Security (USP), which the judicial probe claimed was the only one of the Central African armed forces he found to have worked with the MLC.

Following his election in1993, Mr. Patassé faced a series of armed rebellions but managed to win a reelection in 1999. Two years later, he faced yet another coup attempt led by former president André Kolingba, prompting him to call in assistance from Libya and the MLC.

Mr. Patassé then sacked his chief of staff, François Bozizé, in October 2001, accusing him of complicity in Mr. Kolingba’s coup attempt. It was when Mr. Bozizé started an armed campaign against Mr. Patassé, that the MLC troops were called in at the end of October 2002.