C. Africa army retreat puts rebels one step from capital
BANGUI, Dec 29 – Rebels in the Central African Republic, defying mediation efforts, on Saturday seized another town in their advance on the capital, forcing an army retreat and putting them just one town away from Bangui.
The rebels, who already have control of four other regional capitals in the centre and north of the country, faced no resistance as they entered the town of Sibut around 150 kilometres from Bangui, a military source told AFP.
Officials on both sides said the rebels of the so-called Seleka coalition had also repelled army soldiers trying to recapture Bambari, a former military stronghold in the landlocked country, one of the world’s poorest despite vast mineral wealth.
The Seleka coalition are in effect rebels who had been integrated into the Central African Republic army and have subsequently left due to perceived grievances with the government. The parallels with the DR Congo / M23 situation are fairly stark.
A military official described “extremely violent” fighting over the town, with detonations and heavy weapons fire audible to witnesses some 60 kilometres away.
The rebel advance on Sibut, also a base for Chadian soldiers stationed in the country, forced government forces and their allies to retreat to Damara, 75 kilometres from Bangui and the last major town on the road to the southwestern capital.
“The rebels entered Sibut. There was no fighting, the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) stationed there and the Chadian troops left the town last night (Friday) for Damara,” the military official told AFP.
The bottom line is that the CAR military are a joke. All real fire power is reserved for the presidential guard.
Djouma Narkoya, a Seleka leader, claimed that the army suffered “losses” in the fighting for Bambari, while the rebel side had “one killed and three injured” in the fighting.
“We are continuing to progress,” he added.
Sibut residents arriving in Bangui said they saw around 60 Chadian and Central African army vehicles converging on Damara late on Friday.
Damara is on the road to Bangui about the half way point from Sibut. It looks like a fairly comprehensive routing.
One of the towns under the control of the rebels, who launched their offensive in early December, is the garrison town and key diamond mining hub of Biraosince.
Former colonial power France, meanwhile, boosted its military presence to 400 on Friday with the deployment of 150 paratroopers to Bangui airport, and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) announced reinforcements.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stressed again on Friday that French troops were there only to protect French and European nationals, not fight the rebels.
I don't think the ECCAS forces are going to be to interested in holding back the rebels. Western powers are not going to get involved. The US has some military advisors on the ground assisting Ugandan forces searching out the remnants of the Lords Resistance Army and leader Joseph Kony.
Regional efforts to mediate a peaceful solution in the landlocked equatorial country were at a standstill.
A day after announcing that the rebels and the government had agreed to hold unconditional peace talks and that more regional troops would head to the country, ECCAS said no dates had been set for either move.
The bloc’s foreign ministers will meet again next Thursday “and that is when they will announce a date for the meeting in (the Gabonese capital) Libreville,” ECCAS’s communications director Placide Ibouanga told AFP, referring to talks between rebels and the government.
I wouldn't expect more regional troops to deploy. That leaves Chad.
The coalition of three rebel movements known as Seleka – or the “alliance” in the Sango language – says the government has not fulfilled the terms of peace pacts signed in 2007 and 2001, providing for disarmament and social reintegration for insurgents, including pay.
Central African President Francois Bozize, who took power in a 2003 coup, has twice been elected into office.
Elected is being generous.
Bozize’s appeals for help from France and from the United States to fight the rebels have fallen on deaf ears.
Neighbouring Chad, which has helped Bozize with rebellions in 2010, earlier sent a contingent to the country, however.
Unlike the DR Congo the west has not invested heavily in legitimising the regime electorally if it should fall so be it would seem to be the prevailing attitude.
In Bangui, food prices have soared, further spiking tensions and uncertainty.
“I’m afraid of the rebels coming,” said vegetable vendor Euphrasie Ngotanga in the city’s huge Sambo market. “We’re not going to sell our produce if there’s no peace. And then how we will feed our children?”
“We don’t eat properly anymore,” said another vendor, Angele Bodero, with her baskets full of condiments before her. “Cassava has become more expensive, everything costs more,” she said, referring to the country’s staple food.
A bag of cassava has risen nearly 50 percent from 13,000 CFA francs to 18,000 FCFA ($26 to $32).
“We need peace so we can work and get by,” said elderly vendor Jean Guere, trying to sell the flour sifters he makes himself.
I am guessing that that is for a 100 kg bag and I gather it is not dissimilar to what is being paid in Goma DR Congo.