Security forces in CAR repel two attacks by armed groups seeking to seize the capital Bangui on Wednesday, PM says.
A Central African Republic militia leader blacklisted by the United States and the United Nations for human rights abuses including rape and torture has died from injuries he sustained in November, his armed group said on Friday.
Sidiki Abass, leader of the Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation or 3R armed group, died on March 25 at a health centre in Kambakota, around 320km (199 miles) north of the capital, Bangui, according to a statement signed by “General Bobbo”, who described himself as the new leader of the group.
Abass, whose real name is Bi Sidi Souleymane, died from wounds sustained during an attack on the town of Bossembele, 130km (81 miles) northwest of Bangui, on November 16 last year, General Bobbo’s statement read.
In December, 3R joined with the Coalition of Patriots for Change, an alliance of some of the war-torn country’s most powerful armed groups.
The alliance launched an offensive two weeks before December 27 presidential elections in a bid to prevent a victory by President Faustin-Archange Touadera and to overturn his government.
The well-equipped 3R were on the front lines of combat against pro-government forces, eventually reaching an area about 100km (about 60 miles) from Bangui.
UN and security sources disputed the group’s claim that Abass had been wounded on November 16 – before the rebel offensive – and instead dated it to the initial fighting in December, when his convoy was ambushed.
Rumours of his death had spread since, but were never confirmed by 3R.
The country’s military with the help of hundreds of Rwandan soldiers and Russian paramilitaries have led a counteroffensive since January, taking back most towns previously occupied by the rebels.
While the 3R has been pushed back, it remains a force in the northwest, aided by its knowledge of the terrain.
The US Treasury Department and the UN imposed sanctions on Abass in August last year, accusing the group he founded in 2015 of having killed, tortured, raped, and displaced thousands of people. The UN also accused Abass of participating directly in torture.
In 2019, Human Rights Watch accused 3R of killing at least 46 civilians in Ouham Pende province in the country’s northwest. The killings occurred just a few months after Abass had signed a peace deal in Khartoum with the Central African government and 13 other armed groups.
“The killings of these civilians are war crimes that need to be effectively investigated and those responsible brought to justice,” Human Rights Watch said at the time.
Despite that, 3R remained part of the Khartoum agreement and continued to hold sway in the northwest, where it controls taxes on the lucrative movement of cattle from neighbouring Cameroon and Chad.
Relations between Abass and the government deteriorated, and in June 2020 UN troops launched an operation against 3R bases in the northwest to free roads where illegal checkpoints had been set up to collect tolls.
But 3R militia fighters continued to fuel insecurity in the region, carrying out attacks on convoys, leading to the death of a Rwandan peacekeeper in July 2020.
Violence in recent months is just the latest flare-up in a civil war that has lasted eight years since the toppling of President Francois Bozize.
Bozize had seized power in the former French colony in 2003 and was overthrown a decade later, an act that sparked a civil war along sectarian lines. A spokesman for Bozize said in March that the ex-president had agreed to take charge of the rebel alliance.