CAR rebels call off truce, resume march on Bangui as polls loom

Rebel coalition says it is calling off a three-day ceasefire, already dismissed by the government, ahead of a tense general election on Sunday.

CAR's President Touadera addresses supporters at a rally as Russian mercenaries and Rwandan UN peacekeepers stand guard at a stadium in Bangui [Antonie Rolland/Reuters]

A rebel coalition that has been fighting the government in the Central African Republic (CAR) has called off a three-day ceasefire ahead of a tense general election scheduled on Sunday.

The Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), which began an offensive against the government a week ago, said in a statement it had “decided to break the 72-hour truce it had imposed on itself and resume its unrelenting march towards its final objective”.

In the statement, which was confirmed to AFP news agency as authentic by two of the six groups in the coalition, the CPC said it made the decision “faced with “the irresponsible stubbornness of the government”.

The ceasefire’s signatories had “invited the authorities to observe the ceasefire over the same period” and called on President Faustin Archange Touadera to suspend Sunday’s presidential and legislative elections.

But government spokesman Ange-Maxime Kazagui dismissed the ceasefire on Thursday, saying it was “a non-event” and that “we haven’t seen these people stop what they’re doing”.

During the weekend, the government accused Touadera’s predecessor, Francois Bozize, of fomenting a coup with the rebels – a charge he denies.

The rebel coalition on Friday said the government had “cavalierly rejected” this “chance for peace”.

“Several attacks followed on positions occupied by the patriots of the CPC,” its statement said.

The authenticity of the CPC statement was confirmed by two armed groups – the 3R and the Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central Africa (FPRC).

General Bobo, the leader of 3R, told AFP that “now either the government disperses us, or we march on Bangui, which is our final objective”.

The CPC was created on December 19 by armed groups who accuse Touadera, the frontrunner in the Sunday’s election, of trying to fix the vote. Its components are drawn from rebel groups that together control two-thirds of the country.

MINUSCA forces patrol in Bangui in this December 22 photo [File: Alexis Huguet/AFP]

Meanwhile, fighting resumed in Bakouma, about 250km (155 miles) east of the capital Bangui, according to Vladimir Monteiro, spokesman for the UN’s MINUSCA peacekeeping force.

Gunmen had sought to advance down the main highways towards Bangui but were stopped, according to MINUSCA.

Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Bangui, said people “do not have an appetite for any kind of conflict … and want to exercise their right to vote”.

“When you go outside Bangui, to the countryside, people are very afraid. We are hearing of fighting in various places, people being displaced,” she added.

The oil-rich CAR has been battered by conflict for years, with clashes between a predominantly Muslim rebel coalition and Christian militias after Bozize was toppled in 2013.

A French military intervention together with a UN peace mission temporarily stabilised the country with a peace accord signed in 2019, but there are recurring violent flare-ups.

The recent rise of violence has prompted Russia and Rwanda to deploy military consultants and troops in the country.

Paul Melly, a fellow at the Africa Programme at Chatham House, said it will be “very difficult” to expect the government to halt the Sunday elections.

“The United Nations, MINUSCA and the government have put a huge effort into organising in mobilising the electoral process,” he told Al Jazeera from London.

“They got everybody registered, they have been distributing or starting to distribute voter cards … a lot of people in Bangui want to go ahead and exercise their right to vote.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies