In a military offensive this month, the rebel coalition Seleka has captured at least six towns in the Central African Republic (CAR – see map below). This post gives some background on the situation.
One could start a history of conflict in CAR much further back, but the current cycle of conflict began with the presidency of Ange-Felix Patasse (1937-2011, ruled 1993-2003). François Bozizé launched a rebellion against Patasse in 2001 and took power in 2003. Chadian President Idriss Deby is seen as a key ally of Bozizé, who has been in power ever since. As president, Bozizé won elections in 2005 and 2011, but he too has faced challenges from rebels, notably a conflict in 2003-2007 with a coalition called the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR). An April 2007 peace agreement formally ended that conflict, made the UFDR a political party, and provided for the integration of rebel fighters in the army. Some rebels kept on fighting – a group called the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), for example, launched attacks in late 2009. RFI (French) reported that in August 2012, the CPJP, “the last rebel group active” in CAR, signed an agreement with the government to become a political party. The emergence of Seleka shows that rebellions in CAR are not, in fact, over.
Seleka is made up of “breakaway factions” from the UFDR, the CPJP, and another group, the CPSK, whose French name could be rendered “the Convention of Patriots for Salvation and Kodro” (I was not able to discover what “Kodro” means in this context). Seleka was, according to this French-language site, formed on August 20 of this year. Its demands include what it sees as proper implementation of the 2007 accords, including payments for demobilized rebel fighters and releases of prisoners. More on their demands here.
Seleka currently appears to control six towns: Ouadda, Sam Ouandja, Bamingui, Ndele (captured December 11), Bria (captured December 18), and Kabo (captured December 19). While Ouadda and Sam Ouandja are reportedly small, and Bamingui seems to be as well, the BBC describes Ndele as a “key northern town” and Bria as “a key mining hub in a diamond-rich region.” Together, the BBC says, Ouadda, Sam Ouandja, Ndele, and Bria form “a major route linking the CAR to Sudan, Cameroon and Chad.” Reuters does not assign Kabo any strategic or economic significance, but Reuters notes that taking Kabo, which is 400km/250m from Bangui, brings the rebels even closer to the capital. Many of these towns were battle zones circa 2006, and Ndele was a center of fighting in 2009.
The rebels’ advance seemingly owes partly to the advantage of surprise, but they also seem to have outfought government soldiers (and former rebels fighting alongside the government) in these towns. The BBC describes the battle for Ndele:
An army source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the BBC that the rebels captured Ndele after a surprise attack.
The town was poorly defended, as a detachment of troops was leaving Ndele and had not yet been relieved by other soldiers, the source said.
The army in Ndele was backed by a former rebel movement, the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), which signed an accord with the government in 2011, AFP reports.
“The CPJP put up resistance, but they were routed by our men and forced to flee,” a rebel spokesman known as Col Narkoyo told AFP.
Seleka fighters also reportedly ambushed a government detachment attempting to retake Ndele on December 16. Chadian soldiers crossed into CAR on December 18 to assist the government in breaking the rebellion, but so far I have seen no reports of Chadian troops clashing directly with the rebels. Chad intervened militarily in CAR during the previous rebellion as well as at other points.
Humanitarian concerns are growing. The fighting has already displaced thousands of people.
UPDATE: See this Reuters piece, “Rebels Say Advance Halted, Ready for Talks.”
Below is my map of the rebel advance. Undoubtedly the locations of some of the towns are somewhat off, so take it as merely an approximation of the geography: