Attacks could further delay election
Bangui – Rebel attacks in the Central African Republic's north have reinforced doubts that the impoverished country will be able to organise elections by an October 24 target date.
President Francois Bozize, in power since a 2003 coup, is already ruling beyond his term of office after polls were delayed twice, in April and May, as militant violence and problems with voter lists and funding led opposition groups and donor nations to call for more time.
"I don't believe a vote will happen in October and I don't believe the election commission does either," said Edward Dalby, an analyst at consultancy International Crisis Group.
"Insecurity is a key problem in CAR and, of course, Bozize is benefitting from these postponements."
The CPJP rebel group said it attacked the northern town of Birao on Monday to avenge the death of ex-defence minister-turned-rebel Charles Massi.
Massi's death has not been fully explained but Bozize says he assumes that he was killed in clashes earlier this year.
"This is just the start. Our ultimate goal is to march on the capital Bangui," Issene Abdoulaye, a commander of the CPJP, told Reuters by telephone.
He said his forces were joined by a faction of the rival MLCJ rebel group, which split due to a disagreement between its two top commanders, Captain Abakar Sabone and Colonel Rakis Adoum.
Rebels active in restive region
Adoum told Reuters two government soldiers were killed in the Birao raid. An army spokesperson said government forces were securing the area, but declined to comment on casualties.
Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels are also active in the restive region, which straddles the frontier with Chad and Sudan, and in March killed at least 10 people and abducted at least 50 in attacks on three villages.
President Bozize said in a July 5 interview with French weekly Jeune Afrique that rebel violence and a lack of funding could once again put off elections.
"The electoral budget is short $7.5m, and the process of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration is not complete, particularly in the east where there are rebels from the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army," he was quoted as saying.
The government had been hoping for International Monetary Fund funds to help with election costs. But that is in doubt after the IMF in May froze all disbursements through the regional Bank of Central African States amid concerns about fraud.
The Central African Republic is one of the world's poorest and most isolated countries, with a weak government struggling to end several years of internal rebellions. The landlocked country holds deposits of gold, uranium and diamonds, but insecurity has discouraged large-scale investment.
While opposition groups have not contested Bozize's continued rule beyond his mandate, which ended in June, concerns are rising that a vote could be repeatedly delayed for years as in West African cocoa producer Ivory Coast.
"Opposition groups wanted a postponement of elections, but not like this," said ICG's Dalby.