UN peacekeepers say rebels in Central African Republic “under control”

Rebel forces advancing in the Central African capital Bangui have been pushed back and the situation is “under control”, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force said on Sunday, as tensions escalate a week before key elections.

The government had claimed an attempted coup when three of the powerful armed groups controlling most of the country’s territory began advancing towards the capital along critical highways ahead of the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for 27 December.

Earlier on Sunday, the Coalition for the Democratic Opposition (COD-2020) demanded that the votes be postponed “until peace and security are restored”.

COD-2020 united the main parties and movements against President Faustin-Archange Touadera and was until recently led by former President Francois Bozize, who the government said on Saturday was at the head of rebel fighters massaging not far from the capital.

Vladimir Monteiro, a spokesman for the UN MINUSMA peacekeeping force, told AFP on Sunday that “the armed groups have left the city” of Yaloke, on one of the roads to Bangui, and that they have given up land in two other areas.

MINUSMA “sent blue helmets to Mbaiki, where clashes took place on Saturday … to block the armed groups,” Monteiro added, saying “the situation is under control”.

But security and humanitarian sources said parts of the armed groups were still on the ground around Bossembele – about 150 kilometers from Bangui.

The government had said on Saturday that former President Bozize was in Bossembele with fighters from three rebel groups who announced a coalition on Saturday called the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC).

They urged members to “strictly respect the integrity of the civilian population” and to allow vehicles belonging to the UN and humanitarian groups to circulate freely in the former French colony.

In a joint statement, a group known as the G5 + – France, Russia, the United States, the EU and the World Bank – called on Bozize and allied armed groups to lay down their arms and called for elections to continue on 27 December.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for calm and called on all sides to ensure credible elections and peace.

And the 11,000-strong MINUSCA force warned on Saturday that it would “use all means at its disposal, including aircraft, to prevent violence.”

“Why bring up weapons?”

Meanwhile, Bozize’s KNK party denied that the former leader wanted to carry out a coup.

“We categorically deny that Bozize is the origin of anything,” Christian Guenebem, a spokesman for his KNK party, told AFP.

“The government has always wanted to undermine Bozize’s physical and political integrity.”

“Why take up arms against your countrymen?” Asked Touadera at a meeting in Bangui on Saturday.

“The national electoral authority and the constitutional court have guaranteed that the elections will be held according to plan,” added the president, who is widely expected to win re-election.

Bozize has, after several years in exile, been banned from taking part in the election of the coup’s Supreme Court, as CAR had requested him with an international arrest warrant for charges including murder, arbitrary arrest and torture.

The 74-year-old, who came to power in a coup in 2003 before being overthrown in 2013, said last Tuesday that he accepted the court’s decision.

THE CAR sprouted in conflict when Bozize, a Christian, was ousted as president by Seleka, a rebel coalition largely descended from the Muslim minority.

This coup triggered a bloodbath between Seleka and so-called “anti-Balaka” self-defense forces, mainly Christians and animists.

France sent its army to intervene, and after a transitional period, elections were held in 2016 and won by Touadera.