The armed conflict in the Central African Republic is heating up after the elections. Rebels took control of the city of Bangassou over the weekend. The government accuses former President Bozize of plotting a coup.
The capture of Bangassou by the rebels of the "Coalition of Patriots for Change" (CPC) has put the spotlight back on the violence in the Central African Republic.
"Our forces were totally outnumbered by the rebels and had to take refuge in a base of the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSCA," said Central African government spokesman Ange Maxime Kazagui in a DW interview, describing the situation in the town, which is located about 750 kilometers (466 miles) from the capital Bangui.
Thousands of residents reportedly fled from the attackers across the nearby border into the neighboring Republic of Congo. Several citizens, security forces, and soldiers from the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSCA have been killed. Besides, there were numerous wounded, the spokesman added.
The role of ex-President Bozize
The government and MINUSCA accuse former President Francois Bozize of supporting the rebel alliance, allegations Bozize has denied.
He was initially thought to have the best chance of successfully challenging incumbent Faustin-Archange Touadera.But the Central African Constitutional Court had rejected his candidacy — arguing that Bozize was under UN sanctions for alleged support of groups the UN accuses of committing war crimes between 2013 and 2015.
"Francois Bozize is a professional coup plotter," said Thierry Vircoulon, coordinator of the Observatory for South and Central Africa at IFRI, the French Institute of International Relations. Bozize has been the mastermind of various coups in the past, he said. "From that point of view, he remains true to himself by attacking again now," Vircoulon said.
Bozize came to power in a coup in 2003 before being ousted from office by a rebel group in 2013. Shortly before the election, there had been fierce fighting between government troops and rebels who had marched on to the capital Bangui. The government accused Bozize of plotting a coup with the rebels.
On Monday, the country's attorney general finally opened an investigation against Bozize. He is accused of destabilizing the state and leading a rebellion, as well as supporting a terrorist organization.
For Vircoulon, this investigation against Bozize is more than justified: "There were already enough reasons to indict him in the past. He has gone unpunished for far too long, and this impunity has contributed to the current problems."
In the meantime, President Faustin-Archange Touadera was declared the winner of the election with nearly 54% of the vote. His strongest challenger, Anicet-Georges Dologuele, garnered around 21%. The vote was seen as a test of stability in the Central African Republic, where civil war broke out in March 2013.
The re-elected head of state, Touadera, has been in power since 2016. Despite the presence of international troops and peacekeepers, the government has not managed to stabilize the vast country after Bozizé's fall.
Rebels 'gaining ground'
"We have the city of Bangassou under our control and the fighting there has stopped," rebel coalition spokesman Serge Bozanga told DW in an interview, adding that the rebels are aiming far higher: "Our goal is and remains to take Bangui. We want 100% of the national territory."
Rebels had already launched an attack in Damara, 70 kilometers north of Bangui, on Saturday (Jan. 02, 2021) — a region considered a Touadera stronghold — before being driven out by Central African Republic forces and UN peacekeepers.
The situation in the country is catastrophic, Vircoulon warns. "This election took place under disastrous conditions and the published result is not meaningful. "One must speak of a true step backward compared to the elections in 2015." The disastrous security situation in the country also contributes to the country's bleak outlook, Vircoulon told DW. The UN, the African Union, the European Union, and the Central African Economic Community issued a joint statement on Tuesday to resolve differences peacefully after the election results were announced.
A difficult path to peace
"We are not closing our minds to a possible discussion," rebel spokesman Bozanga told DW, recalling that a cease-fire had already been agreed upon before the December 27 elections. However, the government has not respected the cease-fire, Bozanga claimed.
Government spokesman Kazagui, on the other hand, rejects any offer of negotiation by the rebels. In an interview with DW, he stressed that his government would never negotiate with people guided by a "logic of violence": "We reject any discussion with groups planning a coup against the legitimate order," Kazagui said.
A civil war in the Central African Republic is raging, triggered by the armed insurgency of Seleka rebels, a predominantly Muslim militia group, and the likewise armed response of the anti-Balaka, a predominantly Christian militia group. According to the UN, about three out of five people require aid due to ongoing violence and instability.
Eric Topona contributed to this article adapted from German by Silja Fröhlich