Home | News    Friday 3 November 2006

Central African Republic appeals for peacekeepers

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Nov 2, 2006 (BANGUI) — Central African Republic urged the international community on Thursday to back words with action by sending peacekeeping troops to its remote northeast region bordering Sudan, where rebels have seized a major town.

The capture of Birao on Monday by an armed group Central African officials said came across the Sudanese border has increased fears of an escalation to neighbouring states of the long-running conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

Central African Republic President Francois Bozize on Wednesday cut short a trip to attend an Africa-China summit in Beijing to deal with the threat posed by the rebels, who are demanding he agrees to talks on power sharing.

The anti-Bozize rebel coalition which has claimed the capture of Birao, the UFDR, said it was waiting to see whether the government would launch a counterattack to try to retake the town, or agree to talks.

"We’ll be staying in Birao," UFDR spokesman Capt. Abakar Sabone told Reuters by telephone. "What we want is a round table to discuss sharing power, without exclusions," he said.

Central African Republic, a former French colony and one of the poorest nations on earth, has accused neighbour Sudan of arming and directing the rebel raiders. The Sudanese government on Wednesday rejected the accusation.

Gonda said Bozize had received messages of support from France and from regional allies like Chad, which has also accused Khartoum of backing rebel incursions from Darfur.

But he added Bozize’s government wanted "concrete aid" from the international community.

"Concretely, we want the positioning of (international peacekeeping) troops in the region," Gonda said.

Resisting intense international pressure, Sudan has so far refused to accept a United Nations takeover of a struggling African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur. Khartoum says a U.N. deployment would be equivalent to a Western invasion.

But humanitarian agencies say a strong, international force is the only hope of halting the bloodshed in Darfur, where the three-year conflict pitting Sudan government forces and allied militias against local rebels has killed tens of thousands.

Such a U.N.-led force would also seek to secure Sudan’s porous border and prevent the fighting spilling over into Chad and Central African Republic.

France, which has expressed concern over the capture of Birao, said the U.N. Security Council should take the situation in northern Central African Republic into account.

"We are, in particular, in favour of any measure which could ... improve the surveillance of the cross-border activities of armed groups in the region," the French foreign ministry said.

Gonda declined to say what action the government intended to take against the rebels in Birao, which is located in a remote, rugged region of bush and marshland more than 800 km (500 miles) northeast of Bangui.

(Reuters)

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