CAR: Peacekeepers regain control of Bangassou from armed rebels
Two weeks after taking control, the CPC rebels - who have been conducting an offensive against President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s regime since December - left the city of Bangassou, 750 km east of the capital Bangui, after receiving an ultimatum from the UN.
The city is “under the complete control of MINUSCA” and the rebels “have abandoned the positions they occupied (since 3 January) and fled the city during the night of Friday to Saturday” after receiving an ultimatum from the UN, said Vladimir Monteiro, spokesman for the UN mission in the CAR (MINUSCA), on Saturday evening.
The UN force “remains on alert to prevent any action by armed groups targeting the civilian population, state authority and peacekeepers or the return of rebels in the city,” he said.
“Incidents involving attempted looting took place in the evening and morning [Friday and Saturday], and the force intervened to stop it. The situation is calm and under control, and the positions initially occupied by armed groups are no longer,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Abdoulaziz Fall, spokesman for MINUSCA’s military component.
“The looting of the city of Bangassou by the rebels (…) before their withdrawal upon the arrival of reinforcements made up of elements of the Rwandan contingent of the MINUSCA, is indicative of one of the objectives of these foreign mercenaries: to plunder our wealth and the property of our people,” said Firmin Ngrebada, Prime Minister of the CAR, on Facebook.
On 17 December, the six most powerful of the armed groups that occupied two-thirds of the CAR allied themselves with the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC). They then announced on 19 December, eight days before the presidential and legislative elections, an offensive to prevent President Touadéra’s re-election.
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They have so far come up against forces that far outnumber their own and that are heavily equipped. The UN forces in CAR, MINUSCA, deployed since 2014 – with nearly 12,000 soldiers, hundreds of Rwandan soldiers and Russian paramilitaries – were sent by their countries at the start of the rebel offensive to Touadéra’s rescue.
President Touadéra was declared re-elected. However, a poll later emerged revealing that fewer than half of registered voters were able to go to the polls because of safety concerns throughout the country outside of Bangui. The opposition is calling for an annulment of the presidential election results based on this evidence, in addition to “massive fraud” that has been committed. The Constitutional Court must validate or reject the election result by 19 January.
An offensive on Bangui
After the armed groups’ offensive, many Bangassou inhabitants had taken refuge in the DRC. “It is a great joy,” said Juan Jose Aguirre, Bishop of Bangassou, following MINUSCA’S takeover of the city. “After thirteen days of sleeping outside, people will be able to return home,” he added.
During the attack on Bangassou – the fifth largest city in the CAR with about 30,000 inhabitants – “the bodies of five armed elements had been found,” tweeted MINUSCA, without providing any further details. Doctors Without Borders had treated about 15 heavily wounded people.
Since mid-December, the rebels have been carrying out sporadic but often violent attacks, generally far away from the capital. On 13 January however, around 200 members of the armed groups attempted two simultaneous incursions at the entrance to Bangui. These assaults were pushed back after intensive fighting that left about 30 rebels and one Rwandan peacekeeper dead, according to government and UN sources.
A Burundian peacekeeper was killed on 15 January in an ambush of “armed elements of the coalition groups” near Grimari, 300 km northeast of Bangui, during an “operation to secure” the outskirts of the city led by Burundian and Bangladeshi peacekeepers, MINUSCA announced in a statement. Two Bangladeshi soldiers sustained minor injuries.
Since December, some 60,000 Central Africans have fled the violence, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on 15 January in Geneva. On 13 January alone, 10,000 people crossed the Ubangi River to seek refuge in the DRC.