Rebels hit army base in CAR

2010-07-19 19:03

Bangui – The army in the Central African Republic claimed control on Monday of the northern town of Birao, following an attack by rebels on its military base there.

"Units of the Centrafrican Armed Forces (Faca) at the moment control the town of Birao, and we are in a position to say that this morning's attack was the work of dissidents of the Movement of Centrafrican Liberators for Justice (MLCJ)," a senior military source said on condition of anonymity.

The MLCJ is among rebel movements to have signed up to a peace process with the government of President Francois Bozize.

Initially the attack was blamed on the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), which itself claimed it had taken Birao.

"No casualty toll is yet available, because our elements are undertaking operations fully to secure the town," the army officer in Bangui said.

Around 300 UN peacekeepers are also based in the town, the capital of the Vakaga region which borders Chad and Sudan.

The Faca base came under attack before dawn, a military source in Bangui said.

Army denied reports

In the morning, the military leader of the CPJP, Abdoulaye Hissene, said that his forces had "taken the town around 04:30", but the army denied this.

"This is not an attack by CPJP elements, but by dissidents of the MLCJ, which is trying to join the DDR process (disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former fighters) after snubbing it at first," said the military source in Bangui.

The CPJP has rejected a peace process designed to lead the CAR to the polls, but the MLCJ is part of that process and the military source in Bangui said that the attack on Birao was by disgruntled rebels who wanted pay.

"These uncontrolled elements wanted thus to protest against the failure to pay their overall food allowance," the army source said. "This discontent had been in the air for several days."

Demobilised rebels are entitled to a food allowance while waiting to become fully part of the DDR process. The management and payment of such allowances leads to many disputes.

The poor, landlocked country is gripped by a humanitarian crisis due to army and rebel clashes, as well as violence against villagers by the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army, which has fled military operations in neighbouring Uganda.

Displaced people

The UN, which also has 300 troops from the Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (Minurcat) based in Birao, estimated in a recent report that there were 162 000 internally displaced people in the CAR at the end of 2009.

There are also 31 000 refugees from the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the country, and 137 000 Central African refugees in southern Chad and Cameroon.

The peace process is designed to lead the country to much-delayed elections. The country's electoral commission has proposed October 24 as a new date, but this date has not yet been approved by President Francois Bozize.

Clashed between the CPJP and the army in 2009 caused thousands of civilians to flee the region and a refugee camp for about 6 000 people has been created at Daha on Chad's side of the border.

Birao, which lies 800km to the northeast of Bangui, has been historically controlled by the former rebel Union of Democratic Forces, who signed a peace accord with the government in 2007.

Several rights groups are based in Birao.