Facing an insurgency by a new rebel coalition, the president of Central African Republic (CAR) has consolidated military power under his control after dismissing his own son as acting defence 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.
Meanwhile, the rebels said they have halted their advance on the capital, Bangui, and would participate in dialogue, as head of regional African forces warned them against making further moves.
The announcement on Wednesday gave only a limited reprieve for Bozize as the rebels told Reuters news agency they might insist on his removal in the January 8 negotiations scheduled in Gabon’s capital Libreville.
On Wednesday, the commander of the regional African force, FOMAC, warned rebels against any attempt to take Damara, the last strategic town between them and the country’s capital Bangui.
“If the rebels attack Damara that would amount to a declaration of war and would mean that they have decided to engage the 10 central African states,” General Jean-Felix Akaga told reporters in Bangui.
The UN has called for dialogue between the government and the rebels, while the UN children’s agency said it is concerned about a growing number of children being recruited by armed groups in CAR.
UNICEF said Friday it has received “credible reports that rebel groups and pro-government militias are increasingly recruiting and involving children in armed conflict”.
The agency estimates that even before the latest crisis here some 2,500 children were part of armed groups in the country long plagued by rebellions.
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Bangui said that while there’s while there’s much talk of peace in CAR, there’s “still fear here” and described scenes of “anarchy on the scenes at night”.
Amid the insecurity, our correspondent said that there’s awareness that rebels have made great gains.
“You can’t escape one fact, and that is that the rebel alliance have taken 10 towns in just one month,” said Simmons, who added that the president challenge rests in trying to negotiate with a “politically disoriented” coalition of rebels.
More than 30 truckloads of troops from Chad now line the two-lane highway just outside of Damara, to support government forces.
The rebels appear to be holding their positions up until Sibut, which is 112km further north from Damara.
Defence minister dismissed
On Wednesday, President Bozize announced through a decree read on state radio that he was dismissing his son, Francis, as defence minister. Chief of Staff Guillaume Lapo also was being replaced.
The president already has promised to form a coalition government with rebels and to negotiate without conditions.
It’s a sign of how serious a threat is now being posed by the rebel groups who call themselves Seleka, which means alliance in the local Sango language.
They have accused Bozize of failing to honour a 2007 peace deal.
“There is a little bit of hope as rebels have stopped their advance on the capital,” Lydie Boka, Africa analyst, Director of Strategic Co, told Al Jazeera.
“And really they didn’t have much of choice given that Chad, which is a big player and a master of the game in the region, has warned that they should not go beyond Damara.”
There is also speculation about religious links between rebels and some of the neigbouring countries like Sudan and Chad, she said.
The landlocked nation of 4.4 million people is rich in diamonds, gold and uranium and yet remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
Central African Republic has suffered many army revolts, coups and rebellions since gaining independence from France in 1960.
“Central Africans are tired of somebody who came by force in 2003 and didn’t really share power. Basically, his (Bozize) party, KNK, took over everything in the country. The last legislative elections were virtually fraudulent,” Boka said.