Security forces in Central African Republic repelled attacks by rebels trying to seize the capital early Wednesday after intense fighting on outskirts of Bangui, officials said.
The rebels are protesting the re-election on Dec. 27 of President Faustin-Archange Touadera. Following the Jan. 4 announcement of Touadera’s victory, the rebel coalition said they would take the capital.
They had also taken towns in other parts of the country before the election.
The army is supported in its battle against the rebels by forces from Rwanda, Russia, France and the United Nations.
The fighting began early Wednesday at the entrance to Bangui, near its PK11 and PK12 areas and in the Bimbo neighbourhood, Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada said in a post on Facebook.
“The attackers who came in large numbers to take Bangui have been vigorously pushed back,” he said.
Residents described heavy gunfire in various parts of Bangui.
The Minister of Public Security, Gen. Henri Wanzet-Linguissara confirmed the attacks Wednesday.
“Early this morning, the criminals, the rebels and enemies of the people of Central African Republic, the mercenaries and terrorists, including the Central Africans who lead them, they launched the assault in the Begoua sector. But the defense and security forces did not let their guard down,” he said.
U.N. forces in Central African Republic, known as MINUSCA, and other allied forces engaged as well, he said.
“We stood up as one man and we routed them. They are on the run everywhere,” he said, asking Bangui’s residents to be vigilant and signal the presence of rebels so that they can be tracked.
Abakar Sabone, spokesman for the rebel coalition and head of military operations who had warned of an attack on Bangui earlier this month, accused the government of being behind the chaos.
He said Touadera must sign agreements with the rebels.
“We must protect our country, defend the interests of this country,” he said. “If it is about war, we have weapons. Touadera has abused the confidence of the people.”
The fighting around Bangui comes one week before the Constitutional Court is to rule on the validity of the election results in which the National Elections Authority said that Touadera won.
The opposition had urged the court to order a re-run of the vote because of the insecurity and alleged irregularities.
Former president Francois Bozize has been blamed for flaming the violence, which erupted after the constitutional court rejected his candidacy in December.
A judicial investigation has been opened into the role of Bozize, who was in exile until returning to the nation in December 2019, according to the Attorney General at the Bangui Court of Appeal.
Bozize, who took power in a coup in 2003 and ruled until 2013, faces an international arrest warrant for “crimes against humanity and incitement of genocide.”
He also faces U.N. sanctions for his alleged role in supporting the rebel groups that resisted the Seleka in 2013.
The mineral-rich Central African Republic has faced deadly inter-religious and inter-communal fighting since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power from Bozize after long claiming marginalisation.
Resistance to Seleka rule eventually led to Muslims being targeted en masse, with some beaten to death, mosques destroyed and tens of thousands forced from the capital in 2014.
A peace accord was signed in 2019 between the government and 14 rebel groups, but intermittent violence and human rights abuses have continued.