African Students Free Official They Detained in Protest at Embassy in Moscow
The Chronicle of Higher Education, Wednesday, August 2, 2000
By BRYON MacWILLIAMS
( Moscow)Students from the Central African Republic who have been occupying the embassy of their home country here have released an official whom they had detained for five days, without force, in an effort to secure payment of up to 18 months of delayed cost-of-living stipends.
The administrative attaché, Boniface Bagowi, was permitted to leave on Monday, after promising to locate funds on Tuesday to pay a portion, if not all, of the outstanding sum, according to students.
No money was forthcoming as of late Tuesday.
More than 40 students from institutions throughout the western portion of Russia rallied at about 6 p.m. Thursday at the gated diplomatic compound in the Russian capital, then occupied the two apartments that make up the embassy.
"We do not have any guns, not even a knife," said Jean-Arsene Yamale, a fourth-year biology student at St. Petersburg State
The protesters represent two-thirds of all students from the republic who are now studying in Russia, which provides them with an average of 160 rubles per month, or $5.75, for study. Under an international agreement, the republic must supply students with enough money to live on.
"One cannot live on that amount of money, so what else could we do?" said Mr. Yamale, who also serves as vice president of the Association of Students from the Central African Republic. "We were denied permission to picket on the street, so we are going to stay where we are. We could stay here for one more day, two days, or even a month. We will be here for as long as it takes."
About 13 students remained inside the embassy late Tuesday, according to security guards. Students declined to reveal the amount of the unpaid stipends.
Mr. Yamale, who characterized the episode as a "meeting" rather than a protest, said that the diplomats -- of whom there are
only four stationed in Moscow -- were taken off-guard by the students' action. He said that Mr. Bagowi had told the students,
"I'm not guilty. I have nothing to do with this. I have a family, I have kids."
Mr. Bagowi could not be reached for comment. Ambassador H.E. Claude Bernard Beloum of the Central African Republic was reportedly traveling, and unavailable.
The Central African Republic, nicknamed "The Navel of Africa" on its Web site, is a landlocked country of about 3.4 million people, slightly smaller than Texas, in the center of the continent, just north of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The current student occupation is similar to one that occurred in Moscow in September 1995, when about 15 students from
Ghana were forcibly removed by police from their embassy compound after protesting a 12-month delay in payment of cost-of-living stipends.
The ITAR-Tass news agency quoted a police spokeswoman as saying that police would not intervene in the students' action this time, because "it is their internal matter." Police officers did arrive at about 2 a.m. on Saturday, Mr. Yamale said, but left after they were assured that the action would remain nonviolent.
Under the former Soviet government, tens of thousands of African students were recruited to study here in a bid to foster the spread of communism. After the government's collapse in 1991, Russia continued to pay only for the education of those previously enrolled -- leaving the more-recent arrivals, often from poor countries, stranded.
Under Russian law, foreign students are not permitted to work.