Russia, Rwanda Send Troops To Central Africa Republic After Alleged Coup Bid

(Photo by ALEXIS HUGUET / AFP)

 

The Central African Republic said Monday that Russia and Rwanda had sent in hundreds of troops after an alleged attempted coup ahead of upcoming elections.

The government in CAR, one of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries, accused former president Francois Bozize on Saturday of fomenting a would-be putsch by three rebel groups.

The groups on Friday started to advance on the capital Bangui along key highways after declaring an alliance, the government said. The UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA announced on Sunday that the rebels had been stopped or pushed back and the situation was “under control”.

“Russia has sent several hundred soldiers and heavy weapons” under a bilateral cooperation agreement, government spokesman Ange Maxime Kazagui said.

“The Rwandans have also sent several hundred men who are on the ground and have started fighting.”

Rwanda’s defence ministry confirmed the deployment.

It said the move was in response to the targeting of its troops in the 11,500-strong MINUSCA by rebels supported by Bozize, who ruled the CAR from 2003 to 2013.

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No details were given about the deployment, but the ministry said it would “also contribute to ensure a peaceful and secure general elections scheduled on Sunday”.

MINUSCA’s Rwandan contingent is notably in charge of the security of CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera and the presidential palace.

– Russian role –

There was no immediate confirmation from Moscow about the Russian deployment although the Kremlin said the situation in the country was of “serious concern”.

Moscow has been leading a vast diplomatic and financial offensive in the former French colony since 2018 in return for concessions to Russian firms to exploit minerals, particularly gold and diamonds.

Private security guards employed by Russian companies also provide protection for Touadera and are involved in training of local armed forces.

The alleged coup was mounted by three of the country’s most powerful militias.

They said they had merged into a single entity called “the Coalition for Patriots for Change” and invited all other groups to join.

MINUSCA spokesman Vladimir Monteiro said late Sunday they had been pushed back in several locations or blocked, and “the situation is under control.”

But security and humanitarian sources said some members of the armed groups were still on the ground around Bossembele, around 150 kilometres (90 miles) from Bangui.

The so-called G5+ group — France, Russia, the US, the EU and the World Bank — urged Bozize and allied armed groups to lay down their arms and called for Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections to go ahead.

A source at the French presidency said the priority “in the coming days is to stick to the date” for the elections and avoid fuelling dangerous uncertainty.

The source refused to comment on the dispatch of Russian and Rwandan troops, saying only that MINUSCA “has successfully carried out its mission in the last few days.”

– Shadow of Bozize –

Bozize, 74, who denies the coup plot allegations, has been a major figure in the country’s decades-long history of war and misery.

He slipped back into the country in December 2019 after years in exile, sparking fears of a comeback.

He retains a large following, especially among the Gbaya ethnic group, the country’s largest, and has many supporters in the army.

The former general came to power in a coup in 2003 before he himself was overthrown in 2013 by the Seleka, a rebel coalition drawn largely from the Muslim majority.

Christian and animist groups forged a so-called self-defence force called the anti-Balaka, and the country spiralled into conflict along largely sectarian lines before France intervened militarily.

After a transitional period, elections were staged in 2016 and won by Touadera.

Bozize has been barred from contesting the next elections by the CAR’s top court as he is the target of a 2014 arrest warrant for alleged murder and torture and is under UN sanctions.

– Weak government –

His absence from the poll has left Touadera the clear frontrunner in the 17-strong field of candidates.

But his government holds sway over only around a third of the CAR’s territory.

The rest is in the hands of militia groups that typically claim to defend the interests of a given ethnic group, and often fight with each other over resources.

The CAR has known little stability since gaining independence from France in 1960.

Thousands of people have died since the 2013 coup, and nearly a quarter of the population of 4.7 million have fled their homes.

AFP

Central African Republic Factions Take Step Towards Peace

central-african-republicThe two main factions in the Central African Republic’s inter-communal conflict have taken a tentative step towards ending violence that has killed thousands and forced more than a million people to flee their homes.

The mainly Muslim ex-rebel Seleka coalition and the Christian militias known as anti-balaka set up a joint committee of six members each on Thursday to prepare for peace talks under the auspices of conflict-resolution group PARETO.

According to the vice-coordinator of PARETO, Béni Kouyaté, the committee represents a second step after the two sides held an initial meeting this month.

Few concrete details of the talks have emerged but both sides told Reuters they were optimistic they could lead to something substantial.

“This initiative will lead us towards reconciliation, to peace. That’s what we all want in this country,” said senior Seleka official Eric Massi.

“We agreed on all the mediation principles that we want to lead us to peace. For our part, there’s no problem, but it’s up to the leaders of the Seleka to convince their leaders who are in Bambari to have faith in this process,” said Sebastien Wenezoui, assistant coordinator of the anti-balaka.

Violence continued this week as more than 50 people were killed in two days of clashes in Bambari, 380 km (240 miles) northeast of the capital Bangui.

Militia Attack Muslims In Capital Of Central African Republic

Heavy arms fire and gunshots rang out across the capital of the Central African Republic on Friday as Christian militia forces attacked Muslim neighbourhoods, sending residents fleeing.

A spokesman for the 3,700-strong African Union peacekeeping force, MISCA, said the “anti-balaka” fighters had attacked the PK 5 and Fatima neighbourhoods, home to the city’s minority Muslim population.

An attack on Bangui by Christian militias in early December sparked a wave of bloody reprisals by the Muslim Seleka fighters who seized power in March. Hundreds of people were killed in the violence, prompting France to send peacekeeping troops to its former colony.

Guy-Simplice Kodegue, a spokesman for the interim government, said the Christian militia forces had tried to reach the centre of the riverside capital.

All economic and social activity had stopped as panicked residents fled, he told reporters.

The deployment of 1,600 French troops to Bangui helped to restore a semblance of calm in recent days, but the clashes were a reminder of the tension that erupted into months of massacres, rapes and looting following Seleka’s seizure of power.

The United Nations estimates more than 200,000 people in Bangui – a quarter of the population – have been displaced by the fighting. The MISCA spokesman said a Chadian peacekeeper had died of his wounds after an attack on a MISCA patrol on Thursday.

On Friday, three Seleka fighters were shot dead in central Bangui after one pulled out a grenade at a checkpoint when MISCA soldiers tried to disarm them. A Congolese MISCA soldier was injured in the firefight, an officer said.

MISCA says it has disarmed several thousand Seleka fighters and returned them to barracks. France’s Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told TV5 Monde on Friday that French forces were disarming both sides, anti-balaka and Seleka, indiscriminately.

Speaking in Brussels, French President Francois Hollande repeated calls for other European nations to help restore order in the landlocked African nation of 4.6 million people.

“France is undertaking the most dangerous part of the mission, but we hope that there will be a European presence at our side,” he said.

Under the terms of a U.N. resolution passed on December 5, France hopes to hand over responsibility to security to the MISCA forces in six months. The African Union force is due to reach 6,000 troops by the end of January.

“We could even foresee that force going up to 9,000,” said Hollande, who hosted a summit in Paris this month to convince African nations to send more forces.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said on her Twitter feed Rwanda was preparing to send troops, after the African Union asked it to participate.