Home | News    Monday 11 December 2006

Central African army takes back last rebel-held town

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Dec 10, 2006 (BANGUI) — With military support from France, the army of the Central African Republic has taken back control of Ouadda Djalle, the last town that fell into rebel hands, French military and rebel sources said Sunday.

"Ouadda Djalle was taken back without a fight this weekend, we found no rebels there," the source said, adding that "all towns taken by rebels have been liberated" in an offensive launched on November 27.

"The operation of reconquest is over," announced the source, who requested anonymity, and said it was difficult to tell if rebels of the Union of Democratic Forces for the Rally (UFDR) had regrouped.

"We carried out a tactical withdrawal from Ouadda Djalle on Sunday morning," a rebel leader, Captain Diego Yeo, told AFP by satellite telephone. "We don’t hold any more towns."

The rebels, who began attacks in the northeast in late October, are a loose coalition of supporters of toppled ruler Ange-Felix Patasse and "ex-liberators" who helped General Francois Bozize, the current president, to oust him.

When they took Birao close to the border with Sudan and Chad on October 30, they swiftly routed the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) and moved steadily southwards.

The government accused Sudan of backing the rebels, an allegation denied in Khartoum, and immediately called for help from its allies, particularly France, which maintains a military contingent in Bangui under a defence treaty.

By the end of November, France provided direct ground and air support for a counter-offensive by the FACA, whose troops are badly trained and equipped and have been accused of exactions against civilians, partly because of lack of pay and food as well as tribal rivalries.

Bozize, who became a democratically elected head of state in 2005, is also backed by a military force deployed by the Central African Economic and Monetary Union (CEMAC) under Gabonese leadership.

The recapture of Ouadda Djalle, 700 kilometres (435 miles) northeast of the capital, was announced after Friday’s retaking of Sam Ouandja, about 70 kilometres southeast of Ouadda Djalle.

The UFDR told AFP it had carried out a "tactical withdrawal" from Sam Ouandja, and has generally attributed such retreats to coming under fire from French Mirage F1 fighters rather than FACA activity.

"There are not many of them, and what is worrying is to see what they have been able to do, which shows the fragility of the regime," a foreign diplomat said of the rebels on Sunday.

The counter-offensive was launched on two fronts, from the central mining town of Bria and from Birao in the far north close to the border, after French troops had provided an airlift and the town was recaptured from the rebels.

French Mirage fighter planes fired on the rebels several times in the first part of the campaign, while FACA troops took back Ndele and Ouadda, but no direct clashes have been reported for more than a week.

French and Central African military intelligence sources indicate that the UFDR initially consisted of around 100 rebels, who have been joined by others among the armed gangs that cause insecurity in almost half the country.

Outside towns, these movements could heighten insecurity in the northeast like the highway bandits, ex-soldiers and little rebel factions have done for more than a year in northwest CAR.

"There’s still a lot of cleaning up to do, which will take time because the territory is big and the means are limited," the French military source said.

The French military reported the evacuation of one wounded man to Paris, while the FACA said it lost one soldier and about 15 rebels were killed. No independent figures were available.

The northeast of the CAR is difficult to reach and humanitarian relief agencies are absent.

(AFP)

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