Central African Republic's President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. Picture: REUTERS/LUC GNAGO
Central African Republic's President Faustin-Archange Touadéra. Picture: REUTERS/LUC GNAGO

Bangui — Rebels in Central African Republic (CAR) attacked the capital early on Wednesday, but were repelled by President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s security forces and UN peacekeepers, authorities said, in an escalation of an election conflict.

Helped by newly arrived troops from Russia and Rwanda, the CAR army has been battling groups seeking to overturn a December 27 vote in which Touadéra was declared victor despite fraud claims.

“The attackers, who came in large numbers to take Bangui, have been vigorously pushed back,” prime minister Firmin Ngrébada said in a post on Facebook.

A witness heard explosions and later saw helicopters circling, after the rebels attacked on various outskirts, including the north of the city. In one place, the body of a man in rebel fatigues lay in a garden, while streets were scattered with bullet casings.

The UN’s 10,000-strong peacekeeping mission said one of their soldiers was also killed. However, the city appeared calm after 8am GMT, with security forces patrolling and manning checkpoints.

A UN source said about 200 rebels had participated in the attack and remained close to the city. They had previously attacked towns nearby in the former French colony.

“We heard gunfire from six this morning. We’re staying home. There’s panic. We’re scared of stray bullets,” said north Bangui resident Rodrigué, who did not give his surname.

The rebels had sought to take a police station in the northern PK12 district before they were pushed back, the UN source added, saying three CAR soldiers were wounded.

The UN says former president François Bozizé is backing the rebels, but he has not directly responded to that.

The gold- and diamond-rich nation of 4.7-million people has suffered bouts of violence since Bozizé was ousted in 2013. The latest flare-up has forced more than 30,000 more people to flee to neighbouring countries and has led to food shortages and price rises.

The rebels had sought to derail December’s election and have vowed to take Bangui after the vote went ahead amid allegations of irregularities and uncertainty preventing people from voting in some parts.

The constitutional court is expected to ratify the final results on January 19.

France has publicly backed Touadéra and sent warplanes for two flyovers on December 23 and January 9 to try to deter the rebels.

Touadéra is an ally of Russia, a relationship often seen as a threat to France’s influence in the French-speaking country. 

Reuters

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