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Rebels continue Central Africa push as Chad troops arrive

20 december 2012, 17:55
0
Rebels in the Central African Republic seized a town near the border with Chad on Wednesday, a day after Chadian troops entered the country at Bangui's request to help the army contain the rebel offensive, AFP reports.

The escalating violence drew calls from the opposition and former colonial power France for a broad national dialogue, and prompted the African Union to call on the rebels to withdraw without condition.

According to sources on both sides, rebels from the Seleka rebel coalition captured the town of Kabo and were pressing on southwards.

"The attackers have cut all communications with Kabo ... which they now control," an official in the regular army told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Seleka commander Djouma Narkoyo also said his men controlled Kabo and were advancing on Batangafo, further south.

In a statement, the party of Central African President Francois Bozize urged its "lost compatriots" to accept Bozize's hand, extended in the name of peace.

But the Kwa Na Kwa (KNK) party also called for firm military action against "adventurers" and "mercenaries", saying there was a "vast plot" against the country's people and its president.

"The KNK will never allow power-hungry adventurers to continue to hold Central Africa and Central Africans hostage," KNK spokesman Rigobert Vondo said in a televised address.

The rebels, who have threatened to overthrow Bozize, are still a long way from the capital, Bangui, which lies more than 200 miles (320 kilometres) further south, on the southern border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But they have made extensive gains further east, defeating regular forces to seize a town called Ndele and then covering 150 miles to take control of Bria, a key diamond-mining hub in the centre of the country.

The Central African Republic is a landlocked country with less than five million residents. It ranks 179 out of 187 countries on the UN's latest development index and has seen frequent coups and mutinies.

-- Underpaid, under-motivated, badly managed --

The army is underpaid, under-motivated and badly managed.

Heavily armed Chadian soldiers arrived Tuesday in Kaga Bandoro -- southeast of Batangafo, the town the rebels were advancing toward Wednesday -- and linked up with Centrafrican forces.

"We are not afraid of the Chadians and we are determined to fight until the bitter end," Seleka commander Narkoyo told AFP by phone.

Bozize, who seized power in a 2003 coup and has been toying with the idea of amending the constitution to seek a third mandate in 2016, invited the Chadian troops across the border to help him stop the rebels.

Chadian President Idriss Deby is a faithful ally and helped Bozize seize power. He also helped the Central African Republic expel rebels from the main northern town of Birao in 2010.

According to several observers, the arrival of Chadian forces changes the stakes for the rebels and will likely prevent them reaching the capital, but the rebel action underscores the fragility of the regime.

The rebels accuse Bozize of failing to abide by the terms of several peace deals reached with various rebel factions between 2007 and 2011.

Ex-rebels who had been integrated into the army as part of the agreements argue that the government has failed to make good on its promise to lift them out of poverty.

The Central African opposition also accused Bozize of not having respected the peace deals, which had provided for disarmament and the fighters' reintegration.

"All the ups and downs that our country has faced are a result of General Francois Bozize's non-compliance with the agreements," nine opposition parties said in a statement.

They called for national dialogue, as did French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot, who said talks should be supported by the United Nations, African Union and European Union.

Lalliot condemned the latest rebel attacks and urged an end to the offensive.

The president of the Commission of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said the seizure of the towns is an obstacle to "all the peace coordination efforts" and called on the rebels "to withdraw immediately and without condition."

The Central African Republic has been rocked by rebellions and coups since the fall in 1979 of military dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who for almost 13 years reigned as emperor.

Bozize has never fully controlled the north, and experts say the latest rebel offensive is a real threat to his regime.

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