BANGUI, Apr 10 – Looters after gold or jewels in the abandoned home of deposed Central African Republic president Francois Bozize came instead across a gruesome discovery – two human skeletons hidden beneath the garage floor.
At the house in Sassara, on the outskirts of the capital Bangui, Colonel Ali Garba – one of the Seleka rebels whose coalition toppled Bozize from power last month – gives a tour.
“The Monday (after the assault) I returned to pick up two vehicles… The house had been looted,” he says.
“The people were probably hoping to find diamonds or gold stashed away. They lifted up two tiles in the garage and discovered the two skeletons.”
He indicates the spot where the bodies were found, at the back of the garage, stowed in two-metre deep recesses underneath square tiles. All that now remains in the space is a scrap of coloured fabric.
“I saw them. They were bones with no flesh. The people had been dead for a while, at least several months, maybe more,” he says.
According to Garba, the house had already been pillaged by the time the rebels took Bangui in a swift assault on March 24.
As he scoured the completely ransacked house, Garba says he also found the dead body of a presidential guard, apparently killed during clashes between Bozize’s supporters and rebels.
“The Red Cross collected the body of the guard and the skeletons,” Garba says, a claim backed up by near neighbours.
The Red Cross could not however be contacted to find out where the skeletons were taken.
A government source who did not want to give his name said authorities regretted their removal and were keen to find and identify the bodies.
Who the two dead were and how they met their fate at the property – one of several owned by Bozize – remains a mystery.
Some wonder if they were opponents to Bozize’s regime, killed and hidden under the floor in the hope they would never been unearthed.
“Perhaps it was a ritual,” suggests one of the rebels.
Ritual killings are a known phenomenon in Central Africa, designed to empower or bring good fortune to whoever orders the murder. Bones belonging to those killed are sometimes also trafficked for use in witchcraft.
It was Monique Bozize, wife of the ex-president, who supposedly lived in the house.
Now it lies unoccupied and almost completely bare, all the furniture having been snatched, save one fitness machine. Even the toilets have been pulled out.
Covering the floor are discarded documents, rubbish and photos, some of which feature Francois Bozize, others depicting traditional ceremonies or boxing tournaments.
At the back of the house, an electric generator has been smashed into pieces, while more papers litter the garden.
Bozize is there outside – or rather an effigy of him, with his face painted onto a “body” made up of his real clothes.
One rebel pulls on his tie as if to strangle the former leader, who ruled Central African Republic for a decade but who fled to Cameroon as the rebels advanced and is now expected to seek asylum in Benin.