Rebels launch attacks on Central African Republic’s capital

Security forces in CAR repel two attacks by armed groups seeking to seize the capital Bangui on Wednesday, PM says.

Rebel forces in the Central African Republic on Wednesday launched two attacks on the outskirts of the capital Bangui that were pushed back, officials said.

A witness in Bangui heard explosions and later saw helicopters circling over the city, Reuters news agency reported.

“The attackers who came in large numbers to take Bangui have been vigorously pushed back,” Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada said in a post on Facebook, urging citizens to remain calm.

Fighting was still under way, said UN MINUSCA mission spokesman Abdoulaziz Fall, who only spoke of one attack.

The simultaneous dawn assaults on army units were the first close to the capital since President Faustin Archange Touadera was re-elected in a December ballot.

The assault represents a marked escalation in fighting with rebel groups that erupted around a disputed December 27 election. The groups attacked towns close to Bangui last month but did not reach the capital as intended.

A coalition of armed rebel groups – accused of an attempted coup after their offensive to disrupt the vote – have vowed to march on Bangui.

Wednesday’s dawn attacks, 9km and 12km (five-seven miles) from the capital, targeted two army brigades but the rebel forces were repelled, Interior Minister Henri Wanzet Linguissara told AFP news agency.

The attacks were are the latest since the alliance of CAR’s six most powerful rebel groups who control two-thirds of the country launched an offensive to prevent Touadera’s re-election.

He won the vote and was declared the winner on January 4.

The rebels have since carried out sporadic attacks mostly in towns far from the capital that were repelled by UN peacekeepers and Central African troops, along with Rwandan soldiers and Russian paramilitaries sent to help.

Central African Republic Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada meets troops on January 10 [Florent Vergnes/AFP]

CAR prosecutors have launched an investigation into former president Francois Bozize, who the government accuses of plotting a coup with the help of armed groups.

Bozize, who denies the allegations, came to power in a coup in 2003 before being overthrown in 2013, after which the country slid into sectarian conflict.

The violence has forced over 30,000 people to flee to neighbouring countries, according to the UN refugee agency.

CAR has had five coups and numerous rebellions since independence from France in 1960. Despite peace accords, arms embargoes and sanctions on militia leaders, peace has been elusive in the gold- and diamond-rich nation of 4.7 million.

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