CAR Rebels Reach Outskirts of Capital

22 Mar 2013

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CAR President Francois Bozize


Rebels in Central Africa Republic reached the outskirts of the capital Bangui on Friday after seizing the nearby town of Damara, rebels and military officials said, a day after the insurgents rejected a peace offer from the president.

A rebel spokesman said they had moved past Damara, some 75 km (50 miles) from Bangui, and had advanced to within 22 kilometres of the riverside capital, which some of their men had already infiltrated.

In Bangui, panicked residents ran through the streets, shops closed and schools sent home pupils after national radio announced the rebel advance, reports Reuters.

"Our objective is to take Bangui today," Nelson Ndjadder, spokesman for the CPSK faction of the Seleka rebel coalition, told Reuters by telephone from Paris. "We have 2,000 men on the ground and some have slipped into the capital."

Central Africa Republic has rich deposits of gold, diamonds and uranium but remains one of the least developed countries in the world. A long series of rebellions have crippled the country and conflicts in neighbouring Chad, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo have also undermined peace efforts.

A regional peacekeeping force from neighbouring central African states had established Damara as a 'red line' for the Seleka not to cross when they bore down on the capital last year.

However, residents in Damara said the peacekeepers had simply stood aside to allow the rebels to take Damara on Friday.

"The regional central African forces who were here ran away. Only the Chadians remained and they held talks with the rebels," Bienvenue Yakesse, an inhabitant of Damara, told Reuters by telephone. "The rebels now occupy the whole town."

Seleka resumed hostilities this week, accusing President Francois Bozize of breaking a January peace deal. Bozize, who seized power in a 2003 coup backed by Chad, was outside the country on a visit to South Africa.

France, which is fighting Islamist rebels in northern Mali, has drawn down its troops in Central African Republic from 600 to less than half that number.

A senior official with the regional peacekeeping force said their mandate did not allow them to intervene unless attacked.

"There is not much resistance from the Central African army. Bangui could fall in a couple of hours," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

Tags: Africa, News, CAR, Francois Bozize

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