Home | News    Wednesday 1 November 2006

Central African govt asks France to help repel rebels

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Oct 31, 2006 (BANGUI) — Central African Republic on Friday asked France and regional African allies for military assistance to expel rebels who occupied a northeastern town after crossing from Sudan, the presidency said on Tuesday.

Officials in the landlocked former French colony, one of the poorest nations on earth, said the armed group on Monday stormed Birao, more than 800 km (500 miles) northeast of the capital Bangui, after advancing from Am Dafok on the Sudanese border.

The attack appeared to mark a spillover south into Central African Republic of the political and ethnic conflict which has raged in Sudan’s western Darfur region since 2003. The same conflict has also pushed refugees and rebels into Chad.

President Francois Bozize’s government protested to neighbour Sudan about the attack, demanding an explanation, and it also appealed to the international community for help.

A coalition of anti-Bozize rebels calling itself the UFDR, whose name in French means Union of Democratic Forces for Unity, claimed the capture of Birao, the largest town in the northeast.

A UFDR spokesman, Capt. Abakar Sabone, accused Bozize of "holding the country hostage" and demanded he start talks about power sharing.

The rebels said they would advance towards Bangui.

"We’ve asked France for military and logistical assistance," Bozize’s spokesman Cyriaque Gonda told Reuters.

He said a similar request was also made to the six-nation Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), to which the Central African Republic belongs. The other members are Chad, Cameroon, Congo Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

France has a military contingent stationed in neighbouring Chad, including a squadron of Mirage jets, and early this year sent military helicopters to Central African Republic to back a border protection agreement with Sudan and Chad.

"Already heavily involved in stabilising the (President Idriss) Deby regime in Chad, France has a vested interest in stabilising Bozize’s regime as a democratically elected Deby ally," Adrien Feniou, an analyst with Global Insight, wrote in a note on Tuesday about the Birao attack.

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In Paris, the French government expressed its support for Bozize’s administration.

"These events demonstrate once again the importance of including the Central African Republic in any thinking about solving the crisis in Darfur," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said.

Gonda said Central African Republic’s Prime Minister Elie Dote had on Monday asked the U.N. Security Council in New York to deploy U.N. peacekeeping troops in the Chad-Central African Republic-Sudan border area to guarantee security.

Khartoum is refusing to accept the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur.

The rebel raiders, who were well-armed, were concentrated around Birao’s airfield, Gonda said, adding that civilians had died in Monday’s attack, though he could not say how many.

But he dismissed the rebels’ threat to advance on the capital. "Bangui is secure, they’re far off," he said.

Central African Republic’s remote north is a lawless area where armed raiders regularly loot villages and terrorise civilians, sending many fleeing into southern Chad.

Rebel spokesman Sabone said many of the UDFR fighters had previously fought with Bozize, who seized power in March 2003. He then held and won elections in 2005.

(Reuters)

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