Tag Archives: CAR rebellion

Central African Republic: President Michel Djotodia and the good little putchist’s tool box

African Arguments – By Louisa Lombard

April 2, 2013

Michel Djotodia, newly installed President of the CAR, but yet to demonstrate his democratic credentials.

When I asked people in north-eastern Central African Republic (CAR) about Michel Djotodia, whilst conducting research there in 2009 – 2010, most knew very little. If they knew one thing, it was that he was a man with major political ambition and very little to show for it. Last week, his luck changed: the Seleka rebel coalition he heads claimed power in Bangui, the CAR capital, and Djotodia declared himself president. If he remains in power, he will be the first CAR president from the remote, neglected, and largely Muslim north-east. What do the accounts of people in his home region tell us about the leader he might be? And how can the country start rebuilding?

Djotodia left the CAR during Bokassa’s rule in the 1970s. He went to the Soviet  Union to study and ended up staying a decade, marrying a Russian and fathering two daughters. He has “something like ten diplomas” and speaks Russian and French in addition to the Arabic and Gula he learned as a child. He returned to CAR during the 1980s and sought a job in the public service. The central tax office took him on. “But he wanted nothing more than to be president,” I was told in 2009 by the imam of Tiringoulou, a north-eastern town that has also been a base of the UFDR rebels (Djotodia is their leader): “He really wanted power.”

Twice Djotodia ran for the position of deputy, but failed both times. He then headed to Bria, a diamond mining town where many of his fellow Gula work, and got into business. Through mining he got to know Damane Zakaria, who later became the leader of the UFDR on-the-ground. Djotodia married Damane’s older brother’s daughter. When the mayor of Bria was killed in the mid-90s, a group of the miners were arrested and brought to Bangui. Djotodia went as well and got to know the Sheikh Tidjani, the Gula’s religious leader, who otherwise served as CAR consul in Nyala, South Darfur. He became Tidjani’s adjunct.

When François Bozizé took power in 2003, Djotodia used his acquaintance with an officer who had been part of Bozizé’s “sursaut patriotique” to cultivate a relationship with the new president’s son, Francis, who became Minister of Defence. The outcome for Djotodia was a new post: he replaced the Sheikh as consul in Nyala. This move soured his relationship with many of his fellow north-easterners; his political manoeuvring breached norms of religious/social propriety. The position, however, became quite useful for him.

Little was heard from Djotodia until 2006, when the UFDR emerged and began taking north-eastern towns on its march toward Bangui. A proximate cause for the foundation of the UFDR was the fallout from Chadian rebels’ use of the Tiringoulou air strip earlier that year, an incident that brought Bozizé’s presidential guard out on a rampage through the area. Damane became the leader on the ground, while Djotodia (who was far away in Benin at the time) was, in Damane’s terms, the “intellectual” who could speak on their behalf to the broader world.

Although he eventually signed a peace agreement with the CAR government, Djotodia remained abroad, in Nyala and its environs, where he cultivated relationships with the class of men political scientist Marielle Debos has called “political-military entrepreneurs.” With their help, and the help of changing geopolitical circumstances including the fraying of Bozizé’s friendship with Chadian president Idris Deby, Djotodia finally had enough military strength to take Bangui.

In some ways, Djotodia’s rise to power represents a new chapter in the country’s politics. All the previous heads of state have either come from the southern riverine classes favoured by the French colonisers or, for the last twenty years, the Northwest. Both the South and the Northwest are densely populated in comparison to the Northeast, and both are predominantly Christian, whereas the Northeast is mostly Muslim. Many of the people currently living in north-eastern CAR are the descendents of groups who arrived in the late nineteenth century, fleeing the trans-Saharan slave trade. During much of the colonial period, north-eastern CAR (the prefectures of Vakaga and Bamingui-Bangoran today) was declared an “autonomous zone”, being too remote and impoverished to be able to follow governmental directives.

Because of the history of involvement (as participants and as refugees) in the trans-Saharan trades that swept up the area beginning in the nineteenth century, and because there are still active cross-border networks, people from southern CAR frequently refer to all north-easterners as “foreigners” (Chadian or Sudanese) meaning that regardless of their actual citizenship status, they do not belong in the country. When they travel, people from the Northeast are targeted for special surveillance because of their alleged ‘foreignness’. For instance, on the many roadblocks operated by branches of the state security forces, rebels, and/or others, people with Muslim-sounding names or dress are frequently subject to harassment and extra extortion.

Perhaps Djotodia’s rule will change this, but, as Andreas Mehler has shown, the regional provenance of Central African presidents has had little effect on the distribution of resources, which remain over-centralized in Bangui. Djotodia’s longstanding reputation as a seeker of political power is a dispiritingly familiar trait among the CAR’s recent leadership. His initial statements that he had suspended the constitution and would rule by decree, without organising presidential elections for three years, struck the wrong chord; it showed him to be, in Jeune Afrique’s phrasing, an avid user of “the good little putchist’s tool box.” Subsequent statements that he would stay out of the 2016 elections did little to allay the sense that he is a classic coup leader. After all, we have heard such promises many times before, including from Bozizé in 2003.

As frustrated as most Central Africans were with Bozize, who ruled in an increasingly unaccountable manner, Djotodia has little to no popular support. His home prefecture, Vakaga, has a population of some 50,000, whereas the CAR as a whole is home to four million. All but a fraction of a percent of those four million live in precarious circumstances, and hundreds of thousands of people have had their lives torn asunder by recent conflict. Long before this coup, Central Africans often lamented to me, “While the rest of the world is jumping forward, we keep going backward!”

In what turned out to be his final interview as head of state, Bozizé said that the CAR’s biggest problem is a “lack of patriotism and sense of public duty”. Educated Central Africans (as well as donors and ex-pats) frequently derided Bozizé as an imbecile, but in this final statement he got it right. If the dispiriting violence of the past months is to contribute to redressing the above, it will require Djotodia to step aside and a civilian leader to be brought in as head of state. Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye is the obvious choice. Djotodia shows no sign of doing that without massive pressure being placed on him.

There are other challenges too, not least the existence of other Seleka leaders demanding appeasement. But if donors unite in this demand, there is a good chance they would succeed, given how hugely dependent the country is on foreign aid. This would be a way to give substance to the anti-coup stance held by the African Union and other international organizations without requiring the reinstatement of the ousted leader. In this, the CAR could show a new path forward for places with coup-filled pasts.

Louisa Lombard is a Ciriacy-Wantrup Postdoctoral Fellow in Natural Resource Economics in the department of Geography at the University of California at Berkeley. AA

Central African Republic – Michel Djotodia takes defence ministry in new government

Reuters

Central African Republic's new President Michel Djotodia speaks to his supporters at a rally in favour of the Seleka rebel coalition in downtown Bangui March 30, 2013. REUTERS/Alain Amontchi

By Ange Aboa

(Reuters) – Central African Republic’s new leader Michel Djotodia announced a caretaker government on Sunday in which he is defense minister, according to a statement issued by his spokesman.

The new government, which is due to hold elections in the mineral-rich former French colony within three years, will retain civilian opposition representative Nicolas Tiangaye as prime minister.

Djotodia toppled President Francois Bozize on March 24 after leading thousands of his Seleka rebel fighters into the riverside capital Bangui, triggering days of looting and drawing international condemnation.

The African Union suspended Central African Republic and imposed sanctions on Seleka leaders, including Djotodia, last week. France and the United States say the rebels should adhere to a power-sharing deal signed in Gabon’s capital Libreville in January that mapped out a transition to elections in 2016 in which Bozize was forbidden from running.

Djotodia has pledged to act in the spirit of the agreement and said on Friday he would step down in 2016. But Washington on Saturday said Tiangaye, named premier under the Libreville agreement, was now the only legal head of government.

Bozize seized power in a 2003 coup, but his failure to keep promises of power-sharing after winning disputed 2011 polls led to the offensive by five rebel groups known as Seleka, which means “alliance” in the Sango language. reuters

Will CAR rebels now respect the peace agreements

IPS

Central African Republic President François Bozizé (in suit) was ousted by a rebel coup on Mar. 24. Credit: Kayikwamba/CC by 2.0Central African Republic President François Bozizé (in suit) was ousted by a rebel coup on Mar. 24. Credit: Kayikwamba/CC by 2.0

BRAZZAVILLE, Mar 27 2013 (IPS) – Despite assurances by the leader of the Séléka rebel alliance, self-proclaimed president of the Central African Republic Michel Djotodia, that a “red brigade” would be established to stop the looting and violence that has ensued since Sunday’s coup, citizens do not feel security has been restored.

“We are not safe, even though the rebels have imposed a curfew in Bangui. There is shooting everywhere, which scares us and the children,” Bibi Menbgi, a mother living in the capital Bangui, where electricity and water cuts have persisted since Sunday Mar. 24, told IPS.

 

“There are fewer armed youths firing in the air and looting, but tensions are still high. (Former President François) Bozizé had been distributing arms to groups of young men,” John Mourassen, a Bangui-based journalist, told IPS.

Djotodia suspended the country’s constitution, government and parliament on Sunday. The African Union condemned the coup d’état and suspended CAR from the regional organisation, issuing a travel ban and an asset freeze against the seven Séléka leaders, including Djotodia. The United Nations Security Council also condemned the suspension of CAR institutions and called for the reinstatement of constitutional rule.

In his first official statement, on Mar. 25 in the CAR capital Bangui, Djotodia indicated that he would implement the Libreville Agreement, a peace accord signed in January between Séléka and Bozizé’s government.

Séléka, a coalition of rebel groups, had launched an offensive against Bozizé’s rule last December.

Djotodia undertook to retain Nicolas Tchangaye, the prime minister of the government of national unity, to set up a new cabinet. The new president also said that he would organise elections within the next three years.

Contrary to Djodotia’s assurances, the Libreville Agreement provided for parliamentary elections in 2014, and a presidential election in 2016 at the end of Bozizé’s second term. The agreement also stipulates that the current leaders of the transition — the president and the ministers — would not stand for election. There are questions as to whether the rebels will respect this clause.

According to Jean Kinga, a lawyer in Brazzaville, the self-proclaimed CAR president is likely to resort to extrajudicial action. “He has suspended all the legislative and judicial institutions, so he has the freedom to do as he likes. There might be reprisals against members of the old regime,” he told IPS.

To gain people’s confidence Djotodia needs to bring all parties together, “particularly the Bozizé camp and the political opposition,” said Mourassen.

Over the weekend, the situation in Bangui escalated after Séléka rebels decided to seize the capital as the Central African Multinational Force, known by its French acronym FOMAC, stood by.

The Central African Multinational Force, which is under the command of Congolese General Guy Pierre Garcia, did not engage in any fighting during the capture of Bangui. Indeed, FOMAC forces are said to have been shot at by the CAR army, which is loyal to Bozizé, who fled Bangui on Mar. 24 for Cameroon. It is reported that his family members took refuge in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Since May 2012, relations between Bozizé and the sitting chair of the Economic Community of Central African States, Chadian President Idriss Deby, cooled after Bozizé rejected his advice to engage in dialogue with his opponents. The 500 Chadian soldiers who made up Bozizé’s closest forces left CAR in October 2012 after he accused them of committing atrocities.

Bozizé was left high and dry by other heads of state in the Central African region in retaliation for ignoring their advice and seeking military protection from South Africa instead.

South African army forces deployed in CAR to protect Bozizé lost at least 13 men in the fighting. South African President Jacob Zuma confirmed the deaths.

Djotodia accused Bozizé of becoming increasingly authoritarian, and of reneging on the Libreville Agreements sponsored by the President of Congo-Brazzaville Denis Sassou Nguesso, the mediator in the CAR crisis.

At the time of writing, the government of Congo-Brazzaville had not made any comment on the coup d’état. However, sources close to the presidency in Brazzaville declared that Bozizé “had violated the Libreville Agreements and consequently lost the trust of President Sassou Nguesso. He no longer deserved support.”

Jonas Mokpendiali, a Central African resident in Bangui since 2003, said that he is concerned about the future of his country. “Nothing seems to change. (Jean-Bédel) Bokassa was ousted, Andre Koligba was ousted, (Ange-Félix) Patassé was ousted and now it’s the turn of Bozizé, who thought he was the master of Bangui with his brutal dictatorship,” he told IPS.

Gabriel Mialoundama, a sociologist at the University of Brazzaville, considers the events in Bangui to be the latest in a long-standing crisis. “From the time he came to power, Francois Bozizé has failed to unite the people. His approach was to exclude his opponents, particularly President Ange-Félix Patassé who died (in 2011) because of his ineptitude. He wasn’t a strong leader,” he told IPS.

“If Djotodia works hard to bring in a new constitution and put the CAR’s house in order by organising elections where he is not a candidate, he will have done the CAR a great service,” Mialoundama added with optimism.

But the academic doubts that the new leader will have a free hand.

“CAR is in the grip of Congo (Brazzaville) and Chad, who are believed to have supported rebels with the blessing of Sassou Nguesso. As they did with Bozizé, Deby and Sassou will maintain their hold on Bangui; Djotodia will be their puppet,” he said.  ips

Central African Republic – international implications of rebellion

Chatham House/allAfrica by Alex Vines

Central African Republic: International Implications of the Rebel Victory in the Central African Republic

BY ALEX VINES, 25 MARCH 2013

ANALYSIS

The African Union has suspended the Central African Republic and imposed a travel ban and assets freeze on leaders of the Séléka rebel group on 25 March. This follows their capture of the capital Bangui, which also forced President Bozizé to flee.

The rebels had pulled out of a power sharing agreement and in several days moved the final 75 kilometers from their positions to capture Bangui. With world attention elsewhere, some observers were surprised although this rebel advance was predicted at a meeting at Chatham House last week.

Not long ago in Cairo, the African Union held its retreat of Special Envoys and Mediators to discuss predicted crises in Africa in 2013. Mali, Eastern Congo, Somalia, the Kenyan elections were all on the list: a crisis in the Central African Republic was not.

The Central African Republic, known best for its history of coups, military revolts and brutal rule has always been fragile but predicting actual events can be difficult. Observers on the ground report, but getting the political will to act in such a marginalized remote country is always a low priority.

African problems and international solutions

Events in CAR over the last few days again are a reminder of the limits of international action. The collapse of the January peace agreement and the Séléka advance on Bangui were predictable.

The former colonial power France, as in December 2012, refused to intervene, only sending additional forces to Bangui airport to support its redeployed troops from the Operation Boali force that had been temporarily assigned to protect French nationals and diplomatic assets in the capital. The Economic Community of Central African States has proved impotent.

Its central African military force (FOMAC) could not stop the advance. Neighbouring Chad, which has acted as a regional power broker, did not rush in extra forces in support of Bozizé, and even suggested that Bozizé was finished.

South Africa’s 200-strong military deployment in Bangui lost 13 soldiers and another 27 were injured after Séléka’s push into Bangui. Pretoria is now withdrawing its forces, which have been there since 2007 as part of a security agreement. This agreement had recently extended to 2018 and even in January 2013, the number of South African troops had been extended.

Events in CAR show – as they did previously in Mali – that much of Africa’s Peace and Security Architecture is not yet fit for purpose. Even the military of a regional power like South Africa, when deployed unilaterally is unable to provide a robust military response to a ragtag rebel group, such as Séléka.

This is worrying but it also reflects the ambiguity over what the South Africans were doing in Bangui in the first place. I suspect that the original deployment was made by then South African president Thabo Mbeki, partly to try and end French military neo-colonial dominance, and under the change to a Zuma presidency in 2009 this policy continued and was never reviewed.

South Africa, once again has blundered, as it did in 2010 and 2011 over Côte d’Ivoire when the post-election crisis there forced Pretoria to re-evaluate an Mbeki-era policy.

So what happens to the Central African Republic now it is under rebel control?

Popular frustration over the previous government’s inclusiveness and over irregularities in the presidential and legislative elections from Bozizé’s re-election in 2011 had galvanized the rebellion.

But Séléka (‘alliance’), has not shown that it can offer a better future and has over recent months committed human rights abuses and extracted tribute from those passing through or living in areas it controls.

They are a ragtag coalition of insurgents formed by dissident factions of three former rebel groups – the Convention patriotique du salut du Kodro, the Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix (CPJP) and the Union des forces démocratiques pour le Rassemblement.

Séléka claims that the Bozizé administration has failed to uphold the terms of peace deals signed in 2007, 2008, and 2011, under which former combatants were to be given economic opportunities, including jobs and compensation. In reality their only vision is to become a government and provide patronage to their supporters.

Séléka’s capture of Bangui is the latest in a long history of chronic instability in the CAR since it obtained independence from France in 1960: at least three coup plots were foiled in 2012.

It has suffered from interlinking insurgencies in neighbouring Chad, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Congo-Brazzaville. Despite some international efforts to disarm rebel groups – including a 400-strong Micopax stabilization mission and more than €100m of EU spending on peace consolidation missions in the country since 2004 – it has seen numerous incursions and has remained unstable.

In October 2012, the French nuclear giant, Areva, suspended its operations at its uranium mining operation in Bakouma because of low global demand and poor security.

Now under AU sanctions and widely condemned, Séléka’s leaders have limited options. They will come under pressure to step down and permit new elections.

But there are dangers, especially if the United Nations does not now respond to this crisis and beef up its engagement. The regional body and South Africa have shown their limitations and a fragile CAR, ruled by warlords could overspill into already vulnerable neighbours, including Cameroon.

At a time when much of Africa is enjoying increased stability and growth, instability in countries like CAR and Mali pose regional risks that we should not ignore. allAfrica

S African army confirms men killed and injured in CAR fighting

Mail and Guardian

South African soldiers were killed and injured during the clashes in the Central African Republic, says the South Africa National Defence Force.

The rebel alliance, known as Seleka, reached the outskirts of Bangui late on Saturday and the fighters seized the presidential palace on Sunday. (AFP)

     Click here  

“Following the engagement that we had between the SANDF members and the CAR rebels there were some casualties from both sides,” Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga said on Sunday.

“We are at the moment still trying to assess the information from the people on the ground. We cannot therefore confirm any figures.”

He said the situation in the CAR was calm by Sunday afternoon and there was no threat to the lives of South African soldiers.

“But we don’t take anything lightly. We are taking all the precautionary measures.”

He said the contact between SANDF members and CAR rebel forces took place on Saturday.

The clashes happened at an SANDF base on the outskirts of Bangui, the CAR capital, as well as other isolated incidents. He could not give any further details.

“We are working towards issuing a media statement.”

More troops to CAR Earlier the SANDF issued a statement saying it had deployed more troops to the CAR following days of clashes between armed forces and rebels.

“Following changes in security situation in the CAR the SANDF sent in some more support to protect its personnel and equipment,” Mabanga said in the statement.

He said the SANDF has been deploying troops to the CAR since 2007 following a memorandum of understanding between the two countries. However since the recent changes in security situation more troops had been sent.

“Since then the security situation deteriorated.”

Mabanga said SANDF managed to drive back rebels who attacked the base outside Bangui.

“The chief of the SANDF has emphasised that the SANDF reserves the right, at all times, to act decisively in defence of its members and assets deployed on the ground in CAR.”

Mabanga said he could not disclose the number of South African soldiers in the CAR for security reasons.

Fighters seized presidential palace CAR President Francois Bozize fled the capital early on Sunday after hundreds of armed rebels threatening to overthrow him invaded the city, the Associated Press reported.

And by midday on Sunday the rebels reportedly took control of Bangui.

The rebel alliance, known as Seleka, reached the outskirts of Bangui late on Saturday and the fighters seized the presidential palace on Sunday.

Rebels from several armed groups that have long opposed Bozize joined forces in December and began seizing towns across the country’s sparsely populated north. They threatened at the time to march on Bangui, but ultimately halted their advance and agreed to go to peace negotiations in Libreville, the capital of Gabon.

A peace deal was signed on January 11 which allowed Bozize to finish his term that expires in 2016, but the rebels soon began accusing the president of failing to fulfil the promises that were made, the Associated Press reported.

They demanded that Bozize send home South African forces who were helping bolster the country’s military. And they sought to integrate some 2 000 rebel fighters into Central African Republic’s armed forces.

The deal unravelled more than a week ago, with the rebels again taking control of two towns and threatening to advance on the capital. – Sapa M&G

Central African rebels take palace as Bozize flees

BBC

Central African Republic: Rebels ‘take palace as Bozize flees’

File pic of rebels Rebels are reported to have seized the presidential palace

 

Rebels in the Central African Republic say they have seized the presidential palace after President Francois Bozize reportedly fled the capital.

The Seleka rebels advanced into Bangui after an overnight lull in fighting.

One report said Mr Bozize had fled into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

The rebels, who have been involved in an on-off rebellion since December, accuse the president of failing to honour a peace deal.

Map showing CAR

One of the rebel leaders on the ground, Colonel Djouma Narkoyo, was quoted by AFP as saying: “We have taken the presidential palace. Bozize was not there.”

He said the rebels were planning to move on to the national radio station in Bangui where rebel leader Michel Djotodia planned to make a speech.

Intense gunfire was reported as rebels advanced through Bangui.

“The rebels control the town,” said a spokesman for the presidency, Gaston Mackouzangba. “I hope there will not be any reprisals.”

A Paris-based rebel spokesman said the rebel leadership was telling its fighters to restrain from “looting or score-settling”.

An unnamed presidential advisor told Reuters news agency that Mr Bozize had crossed the Oubangi River into DR Congo on Sunday morning.

Former colonial power France has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, and reportedly sent troops to secure the airport.

On Saturday, French officials warned their nationals in the country to stay at home.

France has some 1,250 troops in CAR.

Mineral resources

The rebels joined a power-sharing government in January after talks brokered by regional leaders to end a rebellion they launched last year.

But the deal quickly collapsed, with the rebels saying their demands, including the release of political prisoners, had not been met.

BBC Africa editor Richard Hamilton says government soldiers have been unable to fend off the rebels because Mr Bozize fears being overthrown in a coup and is therefore wary of having a strong army.

He came to power himself in a military coup in 2003.

CAR, which has a population of about 4.5 million, has been hit by a series of rebellions since independence from France in 1960.

It is one of the poorest countries in Africa, despite its considerable mineral resources. bbc

CAR rebels said to be unhappy with peace deal

Cameroon Tribune/allAfrica

Less than two weeks after the signing in Libreville, Gabon of a series of peace and power-sharing deals by Central African Republic stakeholders, Sèléka rebel field commanders have expressed dismay at the terms of the accords, RFI reported yesterday, January 22, 2013.

According to Col. Hamadine Guidam, a former member of UFDR rebels, his men are not satisfied with the recent agreement because several of such deals had been signed in the past with no apparent results. He said the last agreement allowed President François Bozizé to continue in power for six years, but the people had continued to “live like monkeys with no roads, running water or schools.”

The rebel commander explained that his men had exercised patience with the Head of State from 2006 to 2012 and were not ready to do the same from 2013 to 2014. Another rebel leader, Oumar Oscar, stated their readiness for dialogue, warning that if it did not work, they were ready to return to the capital, Bangui. Meanwhile, Sèléka rebels have been involved in excesses since returning to the northern town of Sibut. RFI reported that inhabitants have been living in fear as rebels continue to loot administrative buildings and private homes.

A local source said some of Sibut Hospital’s staff had fled the town because of harassment from rebels. At the local market, only shops of those who cooperate with rebels are said to be open. In another northern town, Kabo, residents also complain of the conduct of Sèléka. A 35-year old man was recently taken hostage by the rebels and had to pay a ransom of FCFA 20,000 to secure his release.

In another development, Premier Nicolas Tiangaye on Monday, January 21, 2013 began discussions on forming an all-inclusive government of national unity with signatories to the January 11, 2013 Libreville Agreement. Observers predict a difficult task ahead of Tiangaye with President Bozizé’s party reportedly insisting on 12 cabinet positions while the Sèléka rebel coalition that currently controls over half of the country is asking for seven ministerial posts, including that of defence in compliance with the peace accords. The civil society and unarmed opposition also want their share in the cabinet that is expected to have about 27 ministers.  allAfrica

Central African Republic peace talks start in Gabon

AP

Associated Press

  • Guy-Pierre Garcia, left, deputy secretary-general of the Economic Community of Central African States speaks with Seleka rebel alliance leader Michel Djotodia, center, and Christophe Gazau Betty, a former Central African Republic ambassador turned rebel leader, as peace talks got underway in Libreville, Gabon, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Gabon government officials say that talks on the crisis in Central African Republic began Wednesday with representatives of the government, rebels and other groups gathering in this nearby country.(AP Photo/Joel Bouopda Tatou)

    Associated Press/Joel Bouopda Tatou – Guy-Pierre Garcia, left, deputy secretary-general of the Economic Community of Central African States speaks with Seleka rebel alliance leader Michel Djotodia, center, …more  and Christophe Gazau Betty, a former Central African Republic ambassador turned rebel leader, as peace talks got underway in Libreville, Gabon, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Gabon government officials say that talks on the crisis in Central African Republic began Wednesday with representatives of the government, rebels and other groups gathering in this nearby country.(AP Photo/Joel Bouopda Tatou)  less 

LIBREVILLE, Gabon (AP) — Talks on the crisis in Central African Republic began Wednesday with representatives of the government, rebels and other groups gathering in this nearby country, said Gabonese government officials.

Several different groups from Central African Republic gathered for the talks including the Seleka rebels, led by Michel Djotodia, representatives of President Francois Bozize’s government, the political opposition and civic organizations. Also present were several ministers of the 10 countries in the Economic Community of Central African States.

The rebels have seized control of a dozen towns and cities in northern Central African Republic, confronting Bozize with the most serious challenge to his rule since he came to power through a coup in 2003. He has since won two elections in 2005 and 2011.

Officials say the talks are about the revision of a peace agreement signed in 2007 but the rebels have stated they want the talks to be about the resignation of Bozize. Organizers say the issues raised at the talks are to be discussed Thursday at a summit in Libreville of the heads of state of neighboring countries.

While the rebels are demanding that Bozize step down from power, the president Tuesday spoke to the press in Central African Republic’s capital, Banjul, and made it clear that he intends to stay in office.

“Why negotiate?” said Bozize to Radio France International. “Does the rebellion represent the Central African people who have elected me twice? What have I done wrong? I do my job. A rebellion that is growing brutally, that is attacking us. No, I have nothing to negotiate. If I did, the law of the jungle would prevail. And could it spread elsewhere, even to developed countries.”

Bozize reiterated his offer of bringing the rebels into a coalition government.

“We are ready for a national unity government,” said Bozize to RFI. “In our current government, there are members of the opposition. So for us, it would be nothing new, it’s something we’ve always done.”

Bozize dismissed the Seleka rebels as terrorists.

“If the terrorists come to talk terrorism, the whole world will know it,” he said at a press conference Tuesday. “If they come to discuss defending the cause of Central African Republic, we are going to listen to them. If there is something positive, we will accept it. If it’s armed robbery, we will not accept it.”

The rebels of the Seleka alliance come from four separate groups that have now joined forces against Bozize’s government.

On Tuesday, the president again accused outside forces of aiding them and said “there is a risk that a religious cause is behind Seleka.”

He said it appeared there were Janjaweed, or fighters from neighboring Sudan, along with “people who don’t speak Sango, French or even English” from beyond the country’s borders.

“Foreign terrorists are attacking the established power in Central African Republic. Under those circumstances, I am proud of having served my country normally, that democracy is functioning normally,” he said.

Seleka began its offensive Dec. 10, and the rebels have seized 12 towns in a month’s time. They said they were halting their advance before reaching Bangui in an attempt to give the peace negotiations a chance.

However, a spokesman for Seleka in Paris warned earlier this week that they still had the strength to attack the government-fortified city of Damara as well as Bangui.

“If we wanted to take Damara, it would already be done. We have the means to take Damara and also to take Bangui today, but we don’t want the capital to suffer attacks,” rebel spokesman Eric Massi told The Associated Press in Paris on Monday.

The rebels behind the most recent instability signed a 2007 peace accord allowing them to join the regular army, but insurgent leaders say the deal wasn’t fully implemented.

They have claimed that their actions are justified in light of the “thirst for justice, for peace, for security and for economic development of the people of Central African Republic.”

Despite Central African Republic’s wealth of gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, the government remains perpetually cash-strapped. The land-locked nation of 4.4 million, a former French colony, is among the poorest countries in the world.

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Associated Press

CAR’s Bozize sacks son from post of acting defence minister

AP

The final contingent of reinforcements under current deployment plans, a group of around forty soldiers from Cameroon, load their equipment into trucks after arriving to bolster the multinational central-african regional force known as FOMAC which now numbers around a thousand troops, at the airport in Bangui, Central African Republic Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. Facing an insurgency by a new rebel coalition, Central African Republic President Bozize consolidated military power under his control Thursday after dismissing his own son as acting defense minister along with his army chief of staff. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

The final contingent of reinforcements under current deployment plans, a group of around forty soldiers from Cameroon, load their equipment into trucks after arriving to bolster …more  the multinational central-african regional force known as FOMAC which now numbers around a thousand troops, at the airport in Bangui, Central African Republic Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. Facing an insurgency by a new rebel coalition, Central African Republic President Bozize consolidated military power under his control Thursday after dismissing his own son as acting defense minister along with his army chief of staff. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Facing an insurgency by a new rebel coalition, the president of Central African Republic consolidated military power under his control Thursday after dismissing his own son as acting defense minister along with his army chief of staff.

President Francois Bozize said in a decree read on state radio late Wednesday that he was taking over the position held by his son, Jean Francis Bozize as neighboring countries sent troops to help.

Hundreds of soldiers from Chad, Republic of Congo, Gabon and Cameroon have been in arriving this week in this desperately poor, landlocked country where rebels have seized 10 towns in a month’s time.

Rebel spokesman Col. Djouma Narkoyo reiterated Thursday that they were holding their position at the transportation hub of Sibut pending negotiations in Gabon. They have apparently made no further advance toward the capital since taking the town on Dec. 29.

“Our position today is that we respect the decision of the Economic Community of Central African States,” he said by satellite phone. “That’s why we are staying in Sibut and are not advancing.”

Residents in the capital of Bangui said Bozize’s decision to fire his own son was not surprising given the recent military losses. But some noted Bozize may be making his moves too late.

“It’s coming too late because the security of our country is already in the hands of rebels,” said Jean Nestor Kongbu as he watched fishermen cast their nets in the Obangui River that separates Central African Republic from Congo. … They say they won’t advance, but the government could provoke the rebels or the rebels could provoke the government. They need to negotiate for the Central African people.”

The sudden military reorganization also suggests that Bozize’s regime may be weakening, said Thierry Vircoulon, the project director for Central Africa at the International Crisis Group.

“If he is dismissing his own son, it means he is getting more and more isolated,” Vircoulon said.

Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said people see Bozize “as a losing ticket right now.”

“People are losing confidence in him and he has every reason to be a bit paranoid right now watching the disintegration of the country,” she said.

The United Nations called for talks between the government and rebels and the Security Council scheduled closed consultations on the Central African Republic on Thursday afternoon.

The rebels have indicated they will participate in upcoming talks in Gabon but are also insisting that Bozize go. The president says he will not leave before finishing his term in 2016.

Bozize himself took power in 2003 following a rebellion with the help of Chadian forces. He later went on to win elections in 2005 and 2011, though the opposition and international observers have called the votes deeply flawed.

The rebels behind the latest challenge to Bozize’s rule are made up of four separate groups all known by their French acronyms — UFDR, CPJP, FDPC and CPSK. They are collectively known as Seleka, which means alliance in the local Sango language, but have previously fought one another.  In September 2011, fighting between the CPJP and the UFDR left at least 50 people dead in the town of Bria and more than 700 homes destroyed.

Just 70 miles (112 kilometers) to the south of Sibut, government and regional forces are fortifying the town of Damara, where truckloads of Chadian troops patrol with rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.

Gen. Jean Felix Akaga, who heads the regional force known as FOMAC, says a push on Damara, 45 miles (75 kilometers) north of the capital, would be “a declaration of war” on the 10 Central African states.

“For us, Damara is the red line that the rebels cannot cross,” Akaga said Wednesday. “If they attack Damara, we will attack.” AP/yahoo

Central African Republic – behind the Seleka rebellion

International Crisis Group/allAfrica

analysis

Over the last three weeks, the “Seleka” rebellion has extended its control over a large part of the Central African Republic (CAR) and is now on the doorstep of the capital, Bangui. A political dialogue between the Seleka leaders, the government and the opposition parties is urgently needed to avoid a new battle of Bangui, such as those in 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2003, and potential casualties among the civilian population.

“Seleka” (meaning “alliance” in the national language Sango) is a coalition of various armed movements that predominantly originate from the northeast of the country. This alliance is made up of dissident factions of both the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) and the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), but it also integrates armed groups such as the Central African People’s Democratic Front (FDPC), the Patriotic Convention for Salvation of Kodro (CPSK) and the newly created Alliance for Rebirth and Refoundation. Despite their diversity, the groups are united in their claims that President Francois Bozizé, who came to power in a coup in 2003, failed to honour the 2007 Birao Peace Agreement and 2008 Libreville Agreement.

On 10 December, the rebels launched an offensive from the northeast of the country and rapidly captured the diamond producing city of Bria and the towns of Batangafo, Kabo, Ippy, Kaga Bandoro, Bambari and Sibut.

Their march toward the capital was also quick, as the national army was outnumbered and poorly organised. At Bozizé’s request, the Chadian government sent some troops which are now stationed with the Central African army in the city of Damara, the last strategic town before Bangui some 75 km away.

The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) held an extraordinary summit in N’Djamena on 21 December and agreed on a roadmap to resolve this crisis: a ceasefire and immediate negotiations without conditions in Libreville under the aegis of ECCAS. Furthermore, additional troops would be dispatched to reinforce MICOPAX, the peacekeeping mission of ECCAS deployed in CAR since 2008, to turn it into an interposition force. The president of Benin, Thomas Boni Yayi, the current chair of the African Union, travelled to Bangui on 30 December to discuss developments with President Bozizé. Following their meeting, President Bozizé publicly stated that he was ready to negotiate without further delay and to establish a government of national unity.

 

He also pledged not to run for a third term in the next presidential elections, scheduled for 2016.

The CAR has faced political unrest since gaining independence from France in 1960, including numerous attempted coups. Several hundred people died during the 1996 and 1997 mutinies in Bangui, and more than 300 died during outbreaks of violence following the failed putsch in 2001; 50,000 more were forced to flee the capital. Between October 2002 and March 2003, fighting between the national army, supported by armed groups coming from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the rebellion also led to scores of civilian casualties in Bangui and throughout the country.

The Seleka rebellion is occurring against a backdrop of severe economic difficulty and under-development, underscored by massive poverty — 62 per cent of population live below the poverty line.

To avoid a new battle of Bangui and violence against the civilian population, the following steps should be urgently implemented:

  • A ceasefire between the government and the rebels, monitored by MICOPAX.
  • The immediate opening of an inclusive political dialogue to be held in Libreville under the aegis of ECCAS and including the government and the leaders of both Seleka and opposition parties.
  • Seleka leaders must publicly and fully commit to respect international humanitarian law and facilitate NGOs’ humanitarian and medical access to areas under their control; ECCAS, the AU and the UN must make clear that Seleka commanders will be held responsible for any violations of human rights in areas under their control.
  • The urgent deployment of additional regional troops to support MICOPAX in its transition into an interposition force between national and rebel armed units, as announced during the Summit of Foreign Affairs Ministers of ECCAS states in Libreville on 28 December 2012.
  • AU and the UN support to ECCAS mediation efforts.

To bring about a peaceful resolution to this conflict and promote lasting stability, the following issues should be included on the agenda of the negotiations between the government, Seleka’s leaders and the opposition parties:

  • The composition of the government of national unity, which should be balanced and representative of all the country’s political forces. As such, it is essential that all political forces are represented during the negotiations.
  • Proposals to stimulate the economy, taking into consideration the recommendations of the last Strategic Document for Poverty Reduction for CAR (2011-2015).
  • The reform of the army, an issue which has long been discussed but on which there has been no serious action to date.
  • The timeline and the modalities for the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration into society of former combatants, especially in northeast CAR.
  • The creation of an independent, transparent commission charged with investigating state violence and abuses against political opponents of the Bozize administration.      allAfrica