Central African Republic troops killed 44 rebel fighters participating in a push to encircle the capital Bangui and overturn newly re-elected President Faustin Archange Touadera, the government has said.
Together with “allied forces”, the CAR army launched an offensive in the village of Boyali, approximately 90km (56 miles) from the capital, with no casualties on the government side and “44 dead including several mercenaries from Chad, Sudan and the Fulani” ethnic group, the government posted on Facebook on Monday.
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When the government says “allies”, it is usually referring to Rwandan troops and Russian paramilitaries which have been sent to the conflict-plagued country to reinforce federal troops.
“Government forces are back on the offensive,” government spokesman Ange-Maxime Kazagui told the AFP news agency.
He added that troops had captured the village of Boda, 124km from Bangui, with support from Russian fighters.
Rebels controlling about two-thirds of the country launched an offensive a week before presidential elections on December 27, trying to blockade Bangui and carrying out several attacks on key national highways.
The country’s six most powerful armed groups joined forces in December, calling themselves the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC).
But the capital was protected by a well-equipped, 12,000-strong force of UN peacekeepers from the MINUSCA mission, as well as CAR troops and the Russian and Rwandan reinforcements.
On Thursday the government declared a 15-day state of emergency in a bid to push back the rebels.
Monday’s government announcement about the successful attack is the first time authorities have issued such a precise statement about casualties among any forces other than the UN peacekeepers.
The UN has warned of the rebels trying to “strangle” the capital by cutting off the three major roads leading there.
On January 18, CAR’s Constitutional Court confirmed Touadera’s re-election, granting five more years in power to the one-time mathematics lecturer, although the political opposition continues to contest the result given the disrupted turnout, which stood at more than a third.
The violence is inflaming one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Tens of thousands of people have fled into neighbouring countries since December – most of them crossing the Mbomou River into the Democratic Republic of the Congo.