CAR army abandons town to rebels

2010-11-24 21:11

Bangui - Rebels launched a major attack on the Central African Republic town of Birao and forced government troops to retreat, military and rebel sources said on Wednesday.

"Our forces in Birao were forced to leave the town and they regrouped a dozen kilometres outside Birao to organise the riposte," said a source at the general staff in capital Bangui, who confirmed there had been fighting.

"We have ordered our men to carry out a response around Birao to avoid the maximum number of civilian losses," said a source at the Central African armed forces (FACA) high command, without estimating the number of casualties.

The attacking force comprised rebels of the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) and other groups which could not immediately be identified, the source at the high command said said.

The attack took place on Wednesday morning and targeted the FACA headquarters at Birao, he said.

A France-based CPJP leader, Joachim Kokate, confirmed the group's role in the attack and said rebels controlled the town.

"The attack started on Tuesday and finished on Wednesday," said Kokate.

Regular attacks

Kokate said there were "deaths and injuries" in the attack, but did not provide any further information.

The CPJP staged a similar attack in July, when they also targeted FACA's headquarters in Birao.

Three members of the government's forces died in the attack, along with 13 rebels, the defence ministry said.

Birao is a garrison town near the borders with Chad and Sudan in an area where attacks by rebel groups occur with regularity.

Rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army staged a raid on the town in October, looting shops and abducting a number of female civilians.

The CPJP has not signed peace accords with the government of President Francois Bozize, unlike most rebel movements in the desperately poor landlocked nation.

The CPJP's founding leader is former government minister Charles Massi.

His relatives and aides say that Massi was detained in neighbouring Chad, handed over and tortured to death in January in a Central African prison.