May 22, 1999 - Personal Web Site: French troops pluck Peace Corps Volunteers from Danger in Central African Republic

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Central African Republic: Peace Corps Central African Republic : The Peace Corps in the Central African Republic: May 22, 1999 - Personal Web Site: French troops pluck Peace Corps Volunteers from Danger in Central African Republic

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French troops pluck Peace Corps Volunteers from Danger in Central African Republic

French troops pluck Peace Corps Volunteers from Danger in Central African Republic

HEADLINE: French pluck Americans from danger

BYLINE: Sid Balman Jr. UPI Diplomatic Writer

DATELINE: Washington, May 22

"French Legionaires braved withering crossfire during a daring rescue Wednesday on 10 American Peace Corps volunteers pinned down in the capital of the Central African Republic, U.S. officials said. The volunteers - along with 45 other Americans - were transported to the French-secured airport in Bangui and evacuated as a full-blown military revolt began to take shape... French and U.S. officials say the Peace Corps volunteers, who sought refuge for the night at a hostel in Bangui, were abruptly awakened early Wednesday morning when an angry mob emerged from the streets and launched an attack against the building. The Central Africans, who the officials said did not appear to be targeting the Americans, fired automatic weapons and pelted the hostel with stones. 'The situation was dangerous and unpredictable.' a senior U.S. official monitoring the fighting said under conditions of anonymity. The Americans, huddled behind locked doors that were barricaded by furniture, and the hostel owner contacted U.S. Ambassador Mosina Jordan. She requested help from the French, who maintain a garrison of 1,000 Legionaires in the capital of their former colony. The heavily armed soldiers from the famed French Foreign Legion mounted a rescue mission in several armored personnel carriers, which were hit by gunfire and stones as they interposed themselves between the angry mob and the hostel. French officials said soldiers were not injured when they rushed into the hostel, escorted the Americans into the armored personnel carriers and then whisked them to the airport for evacuation." Copyright 1996 U.P.I.

We weren't there for all the excitement although our Peace Corps friends obviously were. The local Peace Corps director called on May 14 warning us not to go out because of impending political demonstrations. Our drivers elected to leave Bangui the next day. We proceeded east to Kembe Falls, a lush spot of jungle greenery with a lovely waterfall. The weather cleared giving everyone a breather from the wet season whose acquaintance we were now making. It was an opportunity to bathe while keeping a sharp eye out for bilharzia snails. Butterflies the size of small birds amazed us. For some reason tropical waterfalls are the best place to find them.

Last bath

The Falls is a regular stop for overlanders and the local thieves know it. A half dozen young delinquents stood idly by as we unpacked our gear. Their expressions brought the tenth command to mind: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's stuff. The boys talked freely among themselves, not realizing that Isabelle, being from Quebec, was fluent in French. The best way to gain entry to the truck after dark was the dominant topic of conversation. Their blatancy is remarkable but we are determined to foil any attempt at robbery.

Another overland truck pulled in and we traded tales of misfortune. They had three tents slashed last night in a bush camp. The perpetrators reached under the rain fly, razor bladed an opening, and removed any loose possessions like clothes, shoes, and flashlights. Their stealthiness was proven by the fact that not a single truck passenger woke up. This is why we never put our possessions in a tent until we go to sleep. Even then I only put my sleeping pad, never any gear, in the tent and hide my clothing underneath my pad.

Guards are assigned in pairs for two hour shifts starting at dusk. The Unit and I get the graveyard tour: 3-5 AM. However, even as we plan our security, the boys hit an outlying tent, collapsing it and making off with the rain fly. By the time my guard shift arrives, the place looks like a Hollywood premier. Between the two overland trucks, there are six people patrolling with flashlights. The truck lights are all on and the portable searchlight on top of the truck probes our perimeter. Clad in a black shirt and dark pants, I prowled in the shadows between the tents with my "persuader," a large wooden club, until dawn arrived peacefully. All the while I tried to imagine what solo travel in this semi-lawless land would be like. I decided to buy our drivers a beer at the next opportunity, especially if the refrigerator had a good day and the beer was cold.

[Postscript from the Unit - not everything went to hell in a handbasket in Bangui. The proprietors of our campground had invested many years trying to help the locals help themselves. We often talked about the difficulties of foreigners trying to teach Africans. Jannettte was skeptical of the Peace Corps volunteers.

"The intentions of the Peace Corpers are good but ultimately they will fail. You have to invest a lot more than two years to understand the needs of the Africans and the environment in which they can learn. Everything must be explained in a local context and that simply takes a long time."

It had taken Jannettte over ten years to establish a women's cooperative for designing and manufacturing African clothing. A large thatched-roof hut in the compound served as studio and factory. With an undergraduate degree in textiles I found the artistry fascinating. I spent numerous hours, as we say in the sewing business, happily fondling the cloth. Why the compound was attacked a week after our departure is a question I cannot answer. I hope Jannettte is OK.]

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Story Source: Personal Web Site

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Central African Republic; Safety and Security of Volunteers



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