Potential Hot Spots: Rebels Win A Quick One In CAR

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March 28, 2013: In CAR (Central African Republic) the rebels are in control of the capital Bangui (population 700,000) and planning to implement the peace agreement signed two months ago. The recently (January 17 th ) appointed prime minister (Nicolas Tiangaye) was asked by the rebels to stay on and help form a new government. The rebels promise new elections within the next two years.

The thousand CAMF peacekeepers from ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States) are unofficially cooperating with rebels to halt the looting and other violence in the capital. The rebels justified their takeover by accusing the former government (with some justification) of reneging on the January peace deal. This time the rebels got to the capital and overthrew the government of president Francois Bozizé.

The Central African Multinational Force (CAMF) did not fight the rebels entering the capital. French troops, which have helped Bozizé in the past, this time did nothing but remind everyone that they were there mainly to protect French citizens. Some CAR soldiers fired on CAMF but there were no casualties. The 200 South African troops that had been sent to guard president Francois Bozizé did resist the rebels. This enabled Bozizé and his family to escape but 13 of the South African troops were killed and 28 wounded.

The rebels advanced because they were fed up with how the government failed time and again to fulfill a peace deal worked out five years ago. Meanwhile, the rebels have become more formidable. Last year a new rebel organization (Seleka, a coalition of five rebel groups) was formed and began advancing from northern CAR (near the Chad border) to the capital (on the Congo border in the southwest). The rebels had a lot of grievances. Back in 2011, elections were held in CAR and things did not go well. The electoral commission declared that president Francois Bozizé won the January 23rd vote, with a 66 percent majority. Opposition groups cried fraud and the disarmament effort failed to collect many weapons from the 6,000 rebels who showed up at disarmament centers. Most rebels that were still active had been operating as bandits, in many cases so intensively that civilian populations fled. Bozizé never provided all the benefits promised to rebels who accepted the amnesty, and these rebels threatened to overthrow the government to get what they were promised. Bozizé thought he could keep the rebels quiet with double-talk and lies. That did not work and Bozizé called on other nations in the region to help him out. ECCAS agreed to send “peacekeepers” but these troops were not able to stop the enraged rebels. There were never enough peacekeepers to cover the entire country and the rebels were now more numerous and determined.

CAR has been torn by a tribal conflict since November 2001, when former CAR Army Chief of Staff General Francois Bozize and his supporters fled to Chad, after fighting broke out in CAR's capital Bangui. For two years Libya provided troops to help keep the new government secure. But in 2003, Bozize and his armed followers returned and the unpopular president Ange-Félix Patassé sort of fled. Patassé supporters, and people who simply opposed Bozize or government in general, got guns and adopted an attitude that they were a law unto themselves. Their bases were in northwestern CAR, which was always a lawless place, made worse by years of civil war in nearby Chad and heavy poaching activity from nearby Sudan.

CAR is landlocked and surrounded by Cameroon to the west, Chad to the north, Sudan to the east, and Congo to the south. CAR has too many people (a population that has quadrupled to 4.5 million in the last 50 years) and too many ethnic groups/tribes (over 80) to govern easily. Many of the tribes do not get along with each other in the best of times, and now with the overcrowding and the spreading desert in the north, things get very ugly. There is not enough water for herds or irrigation and not enough arable land. Foreign aid keeps a lot of people alive, and that aid comes in via the national government, which steals as much as it can. That’s the prize for rebels, the capital and all those lucrative government jobs and income from foreign mining operations. CAR is also 80 percent Christian and only ten percent (in the north) Moslem. Because of the aggressive nature of Moslems in the region, the CAR government is accusing the rebels of being backed by Chad rebels and Islamic radicals from Sudan. It’s unclear if this is so but there have been more and more reports of Christian churches being attacked and Moslem mosques left alone.

The rebels refused offers to form a coalition government and wanted Bozize and his cronies out. Bozize refused to leave until his current term was up in 2016. Peace talks ensured and a deal was struck in January. There is general agreement that Bozize cannot be trusted and is a major thief. But he is head-of-state and African countries tend to help each other out to preserve current governments. Several African nations pledged troops to help protect the Bozize government. By January there were a thousand peacekeepers in CAR and most of them stayed in the capital. But some were in Damara, and the rebels were told that if the peacekeepers were attacked that would be considered an act of aggression against the ten central African states that belong to ECCAS. This threat did not dissuade the rebels, who tended to ignore the peacekeepers and move past them to whatever the objective was.

The CAR Army has only 4,000 troops, who are poorly paid, led, trained, and equipped. CAR soldiers have usually fled when confronted by the rebels. By March 24th most CAR troops had deserted. There are currently about a hundred CAR troops in a base 60 kilometers from the capital that refuse to surrender to the rebels. Negotiations are under way to arrange a surrender.

March 27, 2013: Seleka gunmen and members of the CAMF restored peace in the capital. Before he fled president Bozize had distributed weapons to young men who then began stealing and firing wildly once the rebels arrived and the police fled. South Africa is sending another 200 troops to CAR.

The UN has moved most of its personnel to nearby Cameroon, leaving about 40 behind in the CAR capital.

March 25, 2013: rebel (Seleka) leader Michel Djotodia promised to implement the peace agreement signed in January between recently deposed president Bozize and Seleka. The African Union responded by suspending CAR and placing a travel ban on the seven senior Seleka leaders. Meanwhile there was much looting

March 24, 2013: Several thousand Seleka rebels entered the capital and there is little organized resistance. President Bozize had already fled to nearby Cameroon, and there were no police to prevent rebels and local criminals from looting and attacking civilians. Later in the day rebel (Seleka) leader Michel Djotodia suspended the existing constitution and government.

March 23, 2013: Rebels shut down a hydroelectric power station outside the capital, cutting off electricity to the capital. Later in the day some rebels entered the capital and fought with South African troops trying to block the advance. About 150 French troops seized control of the airport outside the capital and the rebels did not try to contest that.

March 22, 2013: One column of rebels is about 30 kilometers northeast of the capital and CAR troops are unable to stop them. Another column of rebels advanced from the town of Bossembele, which is 162 kilometers northwest of the capital.

March 21, 2013: An armed CAR helicopter fired on a column of Seleka rebels approaching the capital. The column halted briefly as rebels fired back at the helicopter, which soon left. That was the last air attack on the rebels. Rebels were reported less than 70 kilometers from the capital and peacekeepers manning checkpoints have not tried to halt the advance.

March 20, 2013: Seleka rebels began advancing on the capital.

March 17, 2013: All anyone in the south knows is that these northern Seleka rebels are angry and willing to fight. The few clashes in which government troops resisted, the rebels quickly defeated the soldiers. Fleeing survivors told of very angry northerners with guns. In three weeks the rebels swept down the few good roads from the north, seizing 11 towns, mainly ones on key crossroads. The rebels halted 190 kilometers north of the capital, in the town of Sibut. There were apparently only a few thousand rebel fighters and they didn’t have a lot of ammo with them. They captured some weapons and gear from retreating soldiers and picked up food and fuel from towns they captured. Capturing the capital and its 700,000 residents would be an all-or-nothing operation. Bozize, with the help of some peacekeepers, thought he had enough troops to defeat a rebel run for the capital. The government massed forces in the town of Damara, 112 kilometers south of rebel held Sibut.

March 12, 2013: The Seleka rebels went on the offensive once more, capturing two towns in southeast.

 

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