afrol News / IRIN, 10 November - A rebel coalition operating in northern Central African Republic captured a second town on Friday, their spokesman said. Neither France nor Chad are responding to the cries for military assistance by Central African President François Bozizé, who has less than 5,000 troops at his hands.
"We captured the town of Ouadda-Djallé in the early hours of the morning," Abakar Saboune, spokesman of the Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement rebel coalition, told the UN media 'IRIN' today. He said rebel forces had engaged government soldiers in a "fierce battle" before seizing the town.
However, Cyriaque Gonda, the spokesman of President François Bozizé, said the town's current status was unclear. "I cannot confirm the capture of the town of Ouadda-Djallé by rebel groups for the time being," he said. "All I know is that some rebels were located around this town a few days ago."
If confirmed, the capture of Ouadda-Djallé, 110 kilometres south of Birao, would mark an increase in rebel activity in the north. The rebels captured the town of Birao on 30 October. Birao is located close to the Central African Republic's northern-most corner, at the border with both Sudan and Chad.
After that, the rebels had said they would not advance on the capital and would seek dialogue with the government. However, on 1 November, President Bozizé appealed to France, the one-time colonial power here, to help repulse the rebels. That seemed to trigger this rebel response. "We have no alternative but to resort to military action since General Bozizé and his regime are opposed to dialogue," Mr Saboune said.
Control of Ouadda-Djallé is an important strategic gain, rebel spokesman Saboune said, because it allows for the easy movement of armoured vehicles. "We are waiting for our heavy materials to arrive in Ouadda-Djallé and we will launch a new attack on Ndélé and the mining town of Bria," he said.
The capture of Ouadda-Djallé came 48 hours after thousands of people marched through the Central African capital, Bangui, demanding that the army confront the rebels.
Earlier this week, military officials said an unidentified aircraft had made several landings in Birao during its capture. The officials said the plane was carrying materials for the rebels. An army captain, who requested anonymity, said on Friday that among the new equipment the rebels possessed were several armoured vehicles.
This latest rebel activity highlights the problem of the national forces' capability to control the north without outside help. A diplomat who spoke on conditions of anonymity said: "The country's army is not strong enough to cope with internal and external security problems. The national army cannot restore peace and order in the rebel-captured towns unless it receives foreign support."
Observers believe that President Idriss Déby of neighbouring Chad, who is also facing a rebellion at home, is unlikely to help the Central African Republic. President Déby had helped General Bozizé seize power in a March 2003 coup by putting Chadian troops at his disposal.
With roughly 4,500 troops, the Central African army needs restructuring. Most of the soldiers are overage and indiscipline is rife. Payments are irregular. Enrolment in the army is often based on ethnic or regional loyalties, making it more regional than national.
With this modest military capital, President Bozizé had hoped to be able to engage France to help his government repulse the rebels. "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 Central African Republic is attacked by foreign troops," General Bozizé said.
President Bozizé 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 Bangui 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, and Bangui claims the attackers come from neighbouring Sudan.
The French embassy in Bangui has declined to comment on Mr Bozizé's request, saying it was up to Paris to respond. France currently has at least 200 soldiers in the Central African Republic, 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.
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