Rebel fighters in the Central African Republic (CAR) seized the presidential palace when they overtook the capital in March, though when it came to setting up shop they set their sights a bit loftier – the city’s sole luxury hotel.
With no advance reservation, rebels armed with rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikov rifles have turned the five-star Ledger Plaza Bangui into the temporary seat of government. And rebel leader Michel Djotodia is giving new meaning to the term presidential suite: His luxury villa behind the drained swimming pool has a listed rate of about $3,850 a night.
Here, the heavily armed rebels stand guard inside a thatched hut pool bar, and those fresh from the battlefield limp in stolen military fatigues past businessmen in traditional embroidered robes and diplomats who come to meet with the man who now rules mineral-rich Central African Republic. There’s the fever of an inauguration weekend in Washington — only with truckloads full of turbaned rebel forces in the parking lot donning ammunition belts. “They came in from the villages and they are really excited about being in the big city and seeing what they can collect and capture and loot,” one international aid worker said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from armed rebels.
It’s a rare uptick in business for the posh hotel that opened in September, just months before the volatile capital descended into chaos. Before the rebels took over the city, the Ledger was most famous for being the place where ex-President Francois Bozize’s son ran up a $15,000 bill. Bozize had his son arrested over the unpaid hotel bill. The ex-president went into exile March 24, after the rebels breached the capital and as fierce fighting across Bangui left an untold number of civilians dead.