See also:
» 04.10.2010 - Chad rebels fear for Sudan, CAR bases
» 14.05.2010 - Ugandan rebels increase terror in neighbour countries
» 31.03.2010 - LRA now also in Central African Republic
» 17.03.2010 - UNICEF brings books to CAR
» 04.02.2010 - CAR gets more funding for peacebuilding
» 14.01.2010 - CAR's president blocking peace process - ICG
» 21.12.2009 - UN calls for speedy security reforms in CAR
» 20.11.2009 - Cambodia troops arrive in CAR

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Central African Republic

Panick after Central African rebels take key town

afrol News / IRIN, 31 October - The government of the Central African Republic has called on the international community to help it restore peace and order in its northern town of Birao. The town was captured by a rebel coalition calling itself the Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement on Monday.

Cyriaque Gonda, spokesman for President François Bozizé, said the appeal had been made to the security councils of the UN and the African Union (AU), the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa, the Central African States Economic Community, France and other friendly organisations and countries.

In a statement broadcast on national radio on Monday, Mr Gonda said the Bangui government suspected that the attackers who captured the key town of Birao had entered the country from neighbouring Sudan. Birao is a town of at least 30,000 inhabitants near the border between the two countries.

"We are not accusing Sudan of attacking the Central African Republic, but we are wondering why such an attack may have come from a neighbouring and friendly country," Mr Gonda said. The Sudanese ambassador in the Central African capital, Bangui, could not be reached for comment on the allegation.

Birao lies on the major trade routes to Chad and Sudan. It is vital to the region's commerce and is essential for the delivery of social services. Accessing the town from Bangui is only possible by air after the road network in the north was damaged following several years of civil war.

Spokesman Gonda appealed to the UN to implement the Security Council's Resolution 1706 on the deployment of UN troops to the border between the Central African Republic and Sudan to restore security.

The rebel group - believed to comprise three factions opposed to President Bozizé's leadership - attacked government soldiers stationed at Birao and captured the town. "Many people, including soldiers and civilians, died as the result of the attack," Mr Gonda said. He added that serious damage to property also occurred during Monday's attack.

However, in a telephone interview on Tuesday, the spokesman of the rebel coalition, Abakar Saboune, said the group had no connection to Sudan. It is thought the coalition is mostly made up of former mercenaries and fighters who supported President Bozizé during his 2002-2003 rebellion, which ended up in the March 2003 coup d'état, where he toppled the democratically elected President Ange-Félix Patassé.

"We are operating from our territory and we have been controlling the northeast end since we arrived in Tiringulu in April this year," rebel spokesman Saboune said. Tiringilu is a small town in the Vakaga Prefecture, close to Birao. "We are in full control of the town of Birao and its surroundings," he said. "We only attacked loyal troops and I can swear that no civilian died in the attack."

Two rebels died and two others were wounded during the fighting for control of Birao, he further said. Mr Saboune claimed they killed 13 government soldiers, captured 10, and that 14 others had joined the coalition. Those who fled into the bush had asked to join the rebels, he said. He added that the rebel coalition would remain in Birao while planning to advance on the capital, Bangui.

The government's accusation against Sudan complicates further the relations between the two countries. The Central African Republic closed its border with Sudan in April after Chadian rebels coming from Sudan crossed its border to attack N'djamena, the Chadian capital. The Central African rebels allegedly helped their Chadian counterparts to attack N'djamena, hoping to get weapons in return for their support.

The latest attack on Birao occurred while President Bozizé and his Prime Minister were out of the country. Military officials said reinforcements had been sent to Birao.

Government spokesman Gonda claimed the armed attackers came from Sudan's Darfur region. A lieutenant in the Central African army, who declined to be named, said the attackers, numbering at least 300 men, were militarily well-equipped.

There are several armed groups operating near Birao. In April, airplanes, as yet still unidentified, landed in the Tiringulu to offload military equipment and personnel. Military officials in Bangui acknowledged that the armed men dropped into the region were still operating there. In June, a rebel attack on an army position in Gordil, an area near Birao, left 13 soldiers dead.

The capture of Birao is seen as a clear sign that rebel activity has re-emerged in the country since President Bozizé took power. The town has an airport could be used to supply the rebels.

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