CAR formally pardons Bokassa
01 December 2010, 22:21
Bangui - Jean-Bedel Bokassa, once the continent's most ruthless dictator, was formally pardoned by the Central African Republic in a decree on Wednesday, 14 years after his death.
President Francois Bozize said Bokassa, the former self-styled "emperor" who was overthrown in 1979 and died in 1996, is "pardoned in all his rights" in a decree published to coincide with the country's 50th anniversary celebrations.
The decree follows an apparent change of heart in a country whose coffers were emptied by the extravagant Bokassa during a bloodthirsty 14-year dictatorship in which he had himself crowned "emperor" in a coronation costing millions of dollars.
Bokassa was "a son of the nation recognised by all as a great builder," said Bozize, a former military officer who had acted as the dictator's assistant.
"He build the country but we have destroyed what he built," said Bozize in an address to the nation on the eve of the anniversary celebrations, harking back to the former grandeur of the country's now crumbling infrastructure.
Bozize said Bokassa had "given a great deal for humanity" by taking part in France's colonial war in Vietnam as a French military officer before he became head of the CAR's armed forces.
During a ceremony to mark the anniversary, Bozize decorated Bokassa's widow, Catherine, as well as his own wife Monique with a state medal of honour.
The wives of two of his other predecessors, David Dacko and Kolingba, were also decorated.
Bokassa seized power in a coup in 1965, launching more than a decade of iron-fisted rule during which political rivals were murdered and tortured and thieves had their ears cut off.
After he named himself emperor in 1976, his reputation as a bloodthirsty monster grew and he was widely accused of being a cannibal by political opponents. He fathered dozens of children.
Bokassa's era came to an end in 1979 when public anger spilled over after about 100 schoolchildren were massacred by his personal guard during unrest in the capital Bangui.