François Bozizé, former president of the Central African Republic (CAR), has taken charge of a rebel alliance aiming to overthrow the central government, according to the coalition’s spokesman.
Bozizé had seized power in a 2003 coup but was removed 10 years later, an act that sparked a brutal civil war that killed thousands of people and tipped CAR further into instability.
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The country’s current government has accused him of being behind a recently failed offensive by the so-called Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) against President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who won re-election in a December 2020 vote marred by insecurity and low turnout.
Spokesman Serge Bozanga confirmed to the AFP news agency on Sunday that Bozizé had agreed in February to become the CPC’s “general coordinator”.
Bozanga confirmed the authenticity of a document dated February 18 stating that Bozizé had accepted the CPC’s leadership “call”.
The coalition brought together six of the armed groups that control much of the country in mid-December to launch the offensive against Touadéra, just more than a week before the December 27 presidential and legislative elections.
Bozizé, who voiced support for the CPC in December while urging a boycott of the elections, had denied allegations of heading the group.
On January 4, the government launched an inquiry into him for “rebellion”.
Up against a 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping force as well as hundreds of Russian and Rwandan soldiers and paramilitaries deployed in late December, the rebels have been in retreat since a January 13 attack on the capital, Bangui, was thwarted.
The government alleged they had acted in concert with Bozizé, who returned to the country in late 2019.
The constitutional court had earlier blocked Bozizé’s bid to stand in the presidential election, on the grounds that he was under United Nations sanctions over his alleged support for militias held responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict that began in 2013.
Bozizé, who fled abroad after his removal and returned to CAR in late 2019, denies the accusations against him.
The gold- and diamond-rich country of nearly five million people has failed to find stability since the 2013 rebellion.
The latest surge in violence linked to last year’s election forced more than 200,000 civilians to flee their homes, stalled flows of food and drove up prices for basic goods.