Potential Hot Spots: Central African Republic

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In the last few weeks, a group of rebels in the north of the Central African Republic (CAR) have captured two towns. The CAR army is only about 4,000 troops, and most of them tend to stay around the capital. About 800 kilometers of semi-desert plains now separates the rebels and the capital. The rebels first captured Birao (near the border of Sudan and Chad) on October 30. Then, on November 10th, they captured Ouadda-Djalle, about 110 kilometers to the south. The government has appealed to France, the former colonial power, for military assistance. France has about 200 troops in Chad, but refused to get involved in the current fighting.

CAR is a very poor, landlocked country of four million people. Politics is largely via tribal factions and warlords. There are seven major tribes, and over 70 smaller ones. Half the population is Christian, and only about fifteen percent Moslem, with rest following traditional practices.

A year ago, a rebel force began forming in the northern Central African Republic (CAR). Someone, apparently from Sudan, who doesn't like the government of current president Francois Bozize, is paying the bill. Gunmen were hired, by professional organizers, for a major military operation. It's difficult to keep these things secret, although you can hide the identity of the top people for a while. Current president Francois Bozize has many enemies, including many soldiers he demobilized after he took power in 2003. These former soldiers are unhappy with the payments they received for their faithful service (in supporting the Bozize coup.) Some of these lads have taken to banditry, others still have their guns, and would be willing to use them again for a big payday. The CAR army has only a few troops in the north, and not very effective ones at that. Anyone with a few hundred better motivated gunmen could quickly seize control of the northern part of the country. That could touch off another civil war. All because someone with a few hundred thousand dollars, and connections with some former CAR officers living in the north, decided to do some mischief. In the last month, the rebels have been seen with new weapons, and even a few armored vehicles. It appears that Sudan is the troublemaker here, either intentionally, or by accident.

 

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