Rebel forces in the Central African Republic launched a coordinated attack on the outskirts of the capital, Bangui, before being pushed back, the United Nations mission in the country has said.
Wednesday’s assault marked the first time the rebels have struck so close to the city since President Faustin Archange Touadera was re-elected on December 27, a vote that followed what the authorities say was an attempted coup.
“The attack was repelled by Blue Helmets together with the Central African forces,” the spokesman for the MINUSCA peacekeeping mission said in a statement.
The dawn attacks on army units, 9km (5.5 miles) and 12km (7.5 miles) from the capital, targeted two army brigades but the rebel forces were repelled, Interior Minister Henri Wanzet Linguissara told AFP news agency.
A Rwandan member of the force was killed while another was wounded. A number of attackers were killed, while others were arrested, according to the MINUSCA statement.
A witness in Bangui heard explosions and later saw helicopters circling over the city, Reuters news agency reported. The situation appeared calm in north Bangui as of 08:00 GMT, the witness said.
“The attackers who came in large numbers to take Bangui have been vigorously pushed back,” Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada said in a post on Facebook, urging citizens to remain calm.
“We heard gunfire from 6am this morning. We’re staying home – there’s panic. We’re scared of stray bullets,” said north Bangui resident Rodrigue, who only wanted to be identified by his first name.
The attacks were the latest since the alliance of CAR’s six most powerful rebel groups who control two-thirds of the country launched an offensive to prevent Touadera’s re-election.
He won the vote and was declared the winner on January 4. A coalition of armed rebel groups – accused of an attempted coup after their offensive to disrupt the vote – have pledged to march on Bangui.
The rebels have carried out sporadic attacks mostly in towns far from the capital that were repelled by UN peacekeepers and Central African troops, along with Rwandan soldiers and Russian paramilitaries sent to help.
CAR prosecutors have launched an investigation into former President Francois Bozize, whom the government accuses of plotting the alleged coup with the help of armed groups.
Bozize, who denies the allegations, came to power in a coup in 2003 before being overthrown in 2013, after which the country slid into sectarian conflict.
The violence has forced more than 30,000 people to flee to neighbouring countries, according to the UN refugee agency.
The CAR has had five coups and numerous rebellions since independence from France in 1960. Despite peace accords, arms embargoes and sanctions on militia leaders, peace has been elusive in the gold- and diamond-rich nation of 4.7 million.