- Central African Republic (CAR) President Francois Bozize has renewed his call to France to help his government repulse a rebel coalition that has captured the northern town of Birao.
"We cannot understand why France is reluctant to help our army; we have signed a defence accord with France and there is no reason for France to stay away when the CAR is attacked by foreign troops," Bozize said. Bozize himself came to power in a coup supported by Chadian rebels.
He was speaking to thousands of people in the capital, Bangui, who were demonstrating against the capture of Birao by a rebel coalition calling itself the Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement. The rebels overpowered the 100-man army garrison to capture Birao on 30 October.
Bozize first made his appeal to France on 1 November when he cut short a visit to China upon learning of the fall of Birao. He asked France to provide the government with military support - troops and equipment including jet fighters - for the army to take on the rebels.
The accord with France commits either country to provide military aid to the other if attacked by foreign troops.
The French embassy in Bangui declined to comment on Thursday on Bozize's request, saying it was up to Paris to respond. France currently has at least 200 soldiers in CAR, under a framework to provide military assistance to the country. Some soldiers are also serving in the Force Multinationale en Centrafrique, or FOMUC, working with forces of the Economic Community of Central African States.
CAR authorities say the attackers came from neighbouring Sudan's troubled Darfur region. In his speech to the demonstrators on Monday, Bozize said Sudanese President Omar el Bashir was "at the origin of the attacks our country has suffered".
However, Sudanese authorities have rejected Bozize's claims, with the ambassador in Bangui terming the accusations unjustified. A Sudanese delegation expected in Bangui early this week failed to arrive. Embassy officials said the demonstration caused the delay. The delegation was to have tried to resolve the misunderstanding between the two countries.
CAR police said at least 35,000 people, including women's groups, civil servants, pro-government and opposition political parties and non-governmental organisations affiliated to Bozize's administration, took part in the demonstration. Human rights activists boycotted the protest saying the government had distributed money earlier to potential protestors to urge their demonstration.
"We don't need to be sponsored by the government to participate in such a big event in our country," Gounengai Wanfio, the head of the country's Human Rights League, said.
However, Beranger Hugor Lakama, representing a youth organisation affiliated to Bozize's administration, said: "Our concern is to voice our dissatisfaction with the way neighbouring countries are dealing with the CAR. We are demonstrating to protest the occupation of our country by foreign troops."
In a memorandum to Bozize, leaders of the women’s' groups that took part in the demonstration urged him to "take measures" against the rebels, claiming they were killing innocent civilians.
"We ask the government to send troops to Birao to restore the country's territorial integrity. We want the UN [United Nations] Security Council to deploy troops to the Sudan/CAR border in compliance with its 1706 resolution," Eugenie Yarafa, speaking on behalf of the women’s' groups, said.
The Security Council reference was to a resolution the body had passed a few months ago on sending UN troops to the CAR-Sudan border.
On 2 November, the rebel coalition said it was ready to hold talks with the government. "We want to go to the negotiating table with the ruling regime," Michel Detodia, the UFDR leader, had said from Birao.
However, Bozize has rejected this offer.
A diplomat in Bangui, who requested anonymity, said the use of force to settle the current dispute was the worst choice the people of the CAR could make at the moment. "There is no need for armed confrontation in the country now," the diplomat said.
CAR has at least 4,500 soldiers, who are in need more training and discipline. Moreover, most of these soldiers are over age. "The country needs a foreign army to back it up in odder to successfully carry out this operation," the diplomat added.
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