Central African Republic conflict (2012–present)
|2012–2013 Central African Republic rebellion|
Map of battles in the Central African Republic
|Séléka CPSK-CPJP-UFDR:|| Central African Republic
|Commanders and leaders|
|Michel Djotodia|| François Bozizé
ECCAS: Jean Felix Akaga
José Eduardo dos Santos
|3,000 (Seleka claim)
1,000–2,000 (Other estimates)
| 3,500 soldiers
ECCAS: 500+ soldiers
|Casualties and losses|
|500 rebels casualties (Bangui only, South African claim)|| 48 soldiers killed
27 soldiers captured
1 policeman killed
13 soldiers killed
3 peacekeepers killed
Unknown number killed or wounded
Thousands displaced across the country
A conflict in the Central African Republic started on 10 December 2012, between the Government of the Central African Republic (CAR) and Seleka, a coalition of rebel groups, many of whom were previously involved in the Central African Republic Bush War. The rebels accused the government of president François Bozizé of failing to abide by peace agreements signed in 2007 and 2011.
Rebel forces known as Seleka (Séléka means "union" in the Sango language) captured many major towns in the central and eastern regions of the country.[when?] Seleka comprises two major groups based in north-eastern CAR: the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) and the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), but also includes the lesser known Patriotic Convention for Saving the Country (CPSK). Two other groups, the FDPC as well as the Chadian group FPR, both of which are based in northern CAR, also announced their allegiance to the Seleka coalition. With the exception of the FPR and the CPSK, all groups were signatory to peace agreements[which?] and a disarmament process.
Chad,Gabon, Cameroon,Angola, South Africa and Republic of Congo sent troops as part of the Economic Community of Central African States' FOMAC force to help the Bozizé government hold back a potential rebel advance on the capital, Bangui. However the capital was seized by the rebels on March 24, 2013 at which time François Bozizé fled the country and the rebel leader Michel Djotodia declared himself president.
The Central African Republic Bush War (2004–2007) began with the rebellion by the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) in North-Eastern CAR, led by Michel Djotodia, after François Bozizé seized power in 2003. This quickly escalated into major fighting during 2004. During this conflict, the UFDR rebel forces fought the CAR government concurrently with several other rebel groups that were located in other parts of the country, including the Groupe d'action patriotique pour la libération de Centrafrique (GAPLC), the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), the People's Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD), the Movement of Central African Liberators for Justice (MLCJ), and the Front démocratique Centrafricain (FDC). Tens of thousands of people were displaced by the unrest, which continued until 2007, with rebel forces seizing several cities during the conflict.
On 13 April 2007, a peace agreement between the government and the UFDR was signed in Birao. The agreement provided for an amnesty for the UFDR, its recognition as a political party, and the integration of its fighters into the army. Further negotiations resulted in an agreement in 2008 for reconciliation, a unity government, and local elections in 2009 and parliamentary and presidential elections in 2010. The new unity government that resulted was formed in January 2009.
According to the Human Rights Watch, hundreds of civilians were killed, more than 10,000 houses burned, and approximately 212,000 persons fled their homes to live in desperate conditions deep in the bush in northern parts of the Central African Republic. Additionally, rebel groups say that Bozizé has not followed the terms of the 2007 agreement, and that there continue to be political abuses, especially in the northern part of the country, such as "torture and illegal executions".
Timeline of the first phase
Despite the signing in August 2012 of a peace agreement between the government and the CPJP that promised final closure of the Bush War, political violence continued in eastern and central CAR. On 15 September a dissident faction of the CPJP, led by Hassan Al-Habib and calling itself "Fundamental CPJP", attacked the towns of Sibut, Damara and Dekoa. Two members of the national army, the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) were reportedly killed at Dekoa.
Colonel Hassan Al Habib announced on the radio that his group, the Fundamental CPJP, was launching an offensive in protest of the peace agreement between the main CPJP faction and the government. The offensive was dubbed "Operation Charles Massi," in memory of the founder of the CPJP who was allegedly tortured and murdered by the CAR government in 2010. Al Habib further stated that his group intended to assault Bangui and overthrow Bozizé. In a press release signed by Col. Alkassim, a Fundamental CPJP spokesman a group using the French name alliance CPSK-CPJP took responsibility for the attacks. It claimed that it had killed two additional FACA in Damara and captured military and civilian vehicles, light and heavy weapons including rockets, and communications equipment. It also reported an unsuccessful assault on a fourth town, Grimari. The alliance promised more operations in future.
Mahamath Isseine Abdoulaye, President of the pro-government CPJP faction, countered that the 15 September attacks were the work of Chadian rebels. He said that the CPJP was committed to the Libreville peace agreement and that this group of "thieves" would never be able to march on Bangui. Al Habib was killed by the FACA on 19 September in Daya, a town north of Dekoa.
On 13 November, two civilians and a police officer traveling to Bangui were shot to death on the road between Sibut and Damara, near the village of Libi on the boundary of the Ombella-M'Poko prefecture. Further east in Obo, a FACA vehicle was attacked with RPGs on the same day. A civilian in the vehicle was killed and an unspecified number of troops injured. The vehicle was destroyed. The attack was attributed to Chadian Popular Front for Recovery rebels.
December 2012 rebel offensive
On 10 December an armed group seized the towns of N'Délé, Sam Ouandja and Ouadda. Rebels fought with government and allied CPJP troops for over an hour before securing the town of N'Délé. At least five government troops were reportedly killed. At Sam Ouandja, rebels claimed to had captured 22 soldiers and heavy mounted weapons.
On 15 December, rebel forces took Bamingui, a town approximately 120 km (75 mi) from N'Délé in a direct line towards Bangui. Three days later they advanced to Bria, an important diamond mining town lying 200 km (120 mi) southeast of Ouadda. The successful early morning rebel assault on 18 December killed over 15 government soldiers. The Seleka claim they are fighting because of a lack of progress after a peace deal ended the 2004–2007 Central African Republic Bush War. Following an appeal for help from Central African President François Bozizé, the President of Chad, Idriss Déby, pledged to send 2,000 troops to help quell the rebellion. The first Chadian troops arrived on 18 December to reinforce the CAR contingent in Kaga Bandoro, in preparation for a counter-attack on N'Délé.
Seleka forces took Kabo on 19 December, a major hub for transport between Chad and CAR, located west and north of the areas previously taken by the rebels. Four days later the rebel coalition took over Bambari, the country's third largest town, followed by Kaga-Bandoro on 25 December. On the same day, President Bozizé met with military advisers in the capital Bangui.
On 26 December hundreds of protesters angered by the rebel advance surrounded the French embassy in Bangui, hurling stones, burning tires and tearing down the French flag. The demonstrators accused the former colonial power of failing to help the army fight off rebel forces. At least 50 people, including women and children, were sheltering inside the building, protected by a large contingent of around 250 French troops that surrounded the area. A separate, smaller group of protesters chanted slogans outside the US Embassy and threw stones at cars carrying white passengers, according to news reports. A scheduled Air France weekly flight from Paris to Bangui had to turn back "due to the situation in Bangui", a spokeswoman at the company said.
Later in the day rebel forces reached Damara, bypassing the town of Sibut where around 150 Chadian troops are stationed together with CAR troops that withdrew from Kaga-Bandoro. Josué Binoua, the CAR's minister for territorial administration, requested that France intervene in case the rebels, now only 75 km (47 mi) away, manage to reach the capital Bangui. Colonel Djouma Narkoyo, a spokesman for Seleka, called on the army to lay down its weapons, adding that "Bozizé has lost all his legitimacy and does not control the country."
On 27 December Bozizé asked the international community for assistance, specifically France and the United States, during a speech in the capital Bangui. French President Francois Hollande rejected the appeal, saying that French troops would only be used to protect French nationals in the CAR, and not to defend Bozizé's government. Reports indicated that the U.S. military was preparing plans to evacuate "several hundred" American citizens, as well as other nationals. General Jean-Felix Akaga, commander of the Economic Community of Central African States' Multinational Force of Central Africa, said the capital was "fully secured" by the troops from its MICOPAX peacekeeping mission, adding that reinforcements should arrive soon. However, military sources in Gabon and Cameroon denied the report, claiming no decision had been taken regarding the crisis.
Government soldiers launched a counterattack against rebel forces in Bambari on 28 December, leading to heavy clashes, according to a government official. Several witnesses over 60 km (37 mi) away said they could hear detonations and heavy weapons fire for a number of hours. Later, both a rebel leader and a military source confirmed the military attack was repelled and the town remained under rebel control. At least one rebel fighter was killed and three were wounded in the clashes, the military's casualties were unknown.
Meanwhile, the foreign ministers in the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) announced that more troops from the Multinational Force for Central Africa (FOMAC) would be sent to the country to support the 560 members of the MICOPAX mission already present. The announcement was done by Chad's Foreign Minister Moussa Faki after a meeting in the Gabonese capital Libreville. At the same time, ECCAS deputy secretary general Guy-Pierre Garcia confirmed that the rebels and the CAR government had agreed to unconditional talks, with the goal to get to negotiations by 10 January at the latest. In Bangui, the U.S. Air Force evacuated around 40 people from the country, including the American ambassador. The International Committee of the Red Cross also evacuated eight of its foreign workers, though local volunteers and 14 other foreigners remained to help the growing number of displaced people.
Rebel forces took over the town of Sibut without firing a shot on 29 December, as at least 60 vehicles with CAR and Chadian troops retreated to Damara, the last city standing between Seleka and the capital. In Bangui, the government ordered a 7 pm to 5 am curfew and banned the use of motorcycle taxis, fearing they could be used by rebels to infiltrate the city. Residents reported many shop-owners had hired groups of armed men to guard their property in anticipation of possible looting, as thousands were leaving the city in overloaded cars and boats. The French military contingent rose to 400 with the deployment of 150 additional paratroopers sent from Gabon to Bangui M'Poko International Airport. French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault again stressed that the troops were only present to "protect French and European nationals" and not deal with the rebels.
Truce discussions and foreign troops
On 30 December President Bozizé agreed to a possible national unity government with members of the Séléka coalition, after meeting with African Union chairperson Thomas Yayi Boni. He added that the CAR government was ready to begin peace talks "without condition and without delay". By 1 January reinforcements from FOMAC began to arrive in Damara to support the 400 Chadian troops already stationed there as part of the MICOPAX mission. With rebels closing in on the capital Bangui, a total of 360 soldiers were sent to boost the defenses of Damara – 120 each from Gabon, Republic of the Congo and Cameroon, with a Gabonese general in command of the force. In the capital itself, deadly clashes erupted after police killed a young Muslim man suspected of links to Séléka. According to news reports, the man was arrested overnight, and was shot when he tried to escape. Shortly after that clashes began in Bangui's PK5 neighborhood, killing one police officer. Meanwhile, in a new development, the US State Department voiced its concern over the "arrests and disappearances of hundreds of individuals who are members of ethnic groups with ties to the Séléka rebel alliance".
On 2 January a presidential decree read on state radio announced that President Bozizé was the new head of the defense ministry, taking over from his son, Jean Francis Bozize. In addition, army chief Guillaume Lapo was dismissed due to failure of the CAR military to stop the rebel offensive in December. Meanwhile, rebel spokesman Col. Djouma Narkoyo confirmed that Séléka had stopped their advance and will enter peace talks due to start in Libreville on 8 January, on the precondition that government forces stop arresting members of the Gula tribe. The rebel coalition confirmed it will demand the immediate departure of president Bozize, who has pledged to see out his term until its end in 2016. Jean-Félix Akaga, the Gabonese general in charge of the MICOPAX force sent by the ECCAS, declared that Damara represented a "red line that the rebels cannot cross", and that doing so would be "a declaration of war" against the 10 members of the regional bloc. It was also announced that Angola had contributed to the 760 troops stationed in the CAR, while France had further boosted its military presence in the country to 600 troops, sent to protect French nationals in case it is required.
On 6 January, South African President Jacob Zuma announced the deployment of 400 troops to the CAR to assist the forces already present there. Rebel forces secured two small towns near Bambari as peace talks were scheduled to begin in two days.
Attacks on radio stations
Elisabeth Blanche Olofio, a radio journalist for Radio Bé-Oko, was killed by the Séléka Coalition, who attacked the station in Bambari, Central African Republic and another Radio Kaga in Kaga Bandoro on 7 January 2013. Radio Bé-Oko is part of a larger network of apolitical radio stations operating in the Central African Republic, known as L’Association des Radios Communautaires de Centrafrique. The international press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders based in France said it was concerned that the rebel attacks were taking their toll on the ability of radio stations to operate in the C.A.R. Just four days after her murder on 11 January, the government of C.A.R. signed a ceasefire agreement with Séléka Coalition representatives.
On 11 January 2013, a ceasefire agreement was signed in Libreville, Gabon.On 13 January, Bozizé signed a decree that removed Prime Minister Faustin-Archange Touadéra from power, as part of the agreement with the rebel coalition.The rebels dropped their demand for President François Bozizé to resign, but he had to appoint a new prime minister from the opposition party by 18 January 2013. On 17 January, Nicolas Tiangaye was appointed Prime Minister.
The terms of the agreement also included that National Assembly of the Central African Republic be dissolved within a week with a year-long coalition government formed in its place and a new legislative election be held within 12 months (with the possibly of postponement). In addition the temporary coalition government had to implement judicial reforms, amalgamate the rebel troops with the Bozizé government's troops in order to establish a new national military, set up the new legislative elections, as well as introduce other social and economic reforms. Furthermore, Bozizé's government must free all political prisoners imprisoned during the conflict, and foreign troops must return to their countries of origin. Under the agreement, Séléka Coalition rebels were not required to give up the cities they have taken or were then occupying, allegedly as a way to ensure that the Bozizé government would not renege on the agreement.
Bozizé, who was to remain president until 2016 when there were to be new presidential elections, said the agreement was "... a victory for peace because from now on Central Africans in conflict zones will be finally freed from their suffering."
On 23 January 2013, the ceasefire was broken, with the government blaming Seleka and Seleka blaming the government for allegedly failing to honor the terms of the power-sharing agreement. By 21 March, the rebels had advanced to Bouca, 300 km from the capital Bangui. On 22 March, the fighting reached the town of Damara, 75 km from the capital, with conflicting reports as to which side was in control of the town. Rebels overtook the checkpoint at Damara and advanced toward Bangui, but were stopped with an aerial assault from an attack helicopter.
Fall of Bangui
On 18 March 2013 the rebels kept their five ministers from returning to Bangui following talks about the peace process in the town of Sibut. The rebels demanded the release of political prisoners and the integration of rebel forces into the national army. Seleka also wanted South African soldiers who had been on assignment in Central African Republic to leave the country. Seleka threatened to take up arms again if the demands were not met, giving the government a deadline of 72 hours. Before that the rebels seized control of two towns in the country's southeast, Gambo and Bangassou.
On 22 March 2013, the rebels renewed their offensive. They took control of the towns of Damara and Bossangoa. After Damara fell, fears were widespread in Bangui that the capital too would soon fall, and a sense of panic pervaded the city, with shops and schools closed. Government forces briefly halted the rebel advance by firing on the rebel columns with an attack helicopter, but by 23 March, the rebels entered Bangui, and were "heading for the Presidential Palace," according to Séléka spokesman Nelson Ndjadder. Rebels reportedly managed to push out government soldiers in the neighbourhood surrounding Bozizé's private residence, though the government maintained that Bozizé remained in the Presidential Palace in the centre of the city.
Fighting died down during the night as power and water supplies were cut off. Rebels held the northern suburbs whilst the government retained control of the city centre. A government spokesman insisted that Bozizé remained in power and that the capital was still under government control.
On 24 March, rebels reached the presidential palace in the centre of the capital, where heavy gunfire erupted. The presidential palace and the rest of the capital soon fell to rebel forces and Bozizé fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "A presidential adviser said he had crossed the river into DRC on Sunday morning [24 March] as rebel forces headed for the presidential palace." He was later said to have sought temporary refuge in Cameroon, according to that country's government. The United Nations refugee agency received a request from the Congolese government to help move 25 members of Bozizé's family from the border town of Zongo. A spokesman for the president stated that "The rebels control the town; I hope there will not be any reprisals."
Rebel leaders claimed to have told their men to refrain from any theft or reprisals but residents in the capital are said to have engaged in widespread looting. Water and power have been cut to the city. Rebel fighters directed looters towards the houses of army officers but fired their rifles in the air to protect the homes of ordinary citizens.
Thirteen South African soldiers were killed and twenty-seven wounded and one was missing after their base on the outskirts of Bangui was attacked by an armed rebel group of 3000 rebels, starting an intense firefight between the rebels and the base's 400 South African National Defence Force soldiers that lasted an unspecified amount of time. General Solly Shoke, the Chief of the South African National Defence Force, stated at a press conference on 24 March 2013 that the SANDF soldiers had 'inflicted heavy losses' on the rebels, retained control of their base and forced the rebels into a ceasefire. Shoke also confirmed that there are no plans as yet for the South African troops to leave the Central African Republic. The SANDF forces of about 200 soldiers faced 3000 experienced armed rebels, by the time rebels proposed a cease-fire, the rebels lost 500 men to the 13 killed and 27 wounded of the SANDF.
Several peacekeepers from the Central African regional force, including three Chadians, were also killed on 24 March, when a helicopter operated by Bozize's forces attacked them, Chad's presidency said in a statement.
A company of French troops secured Bangui M'Poko International Airport, while a diplomatic source confirmed that Paris had asked for an emergency UN Security Council meeting to discuss the rebel advance. France sent 350 soldiers to ensure the security of its citizens, a senior official told AFP, bringing the total number of French troops in CAR to nearly 600, though a spokesman has stated that there are no plans to send further troops to the country. On 26 March French defence ministry said that French troops guarding the airport had accidentally killed two Indian citizens. The soldiers shot at three vehicles approaching the airport after firing warning shots and themselves coming under fire, the statement said. Two Indian nationals and a number of Cameroonians were wounded in the attack.
On 25 March 2013 Séléka leader Michel Djotodia, who served after the January agreement as First Deputy Prime Minister for National Defense, declared himself President. Djotodia said that there would be a three-year transitional period and that Nicolas Tiangaye would continue to serve as Prime Minister. Djotodia promptly suspended the constitution and dissolved the government, as well as the National Assembly. He then reappointed Tiangaye as Prime Minister on 27 March 2013.
Following the rebel victory in the capital, small pockets of resistance remained and fought against the new rulers. The resistance consisted mostly of youths that received weapons from the former government. Over 100 soldiers loyal to the former government were holed up a base 60 km from the capital, refusing to surrender their weapons, although talks were underway to allow them to return to their homes. By 27 March, power was slowly being restored across the capital and the overall security situation was beginning to improve.
Top military and police officers met with Djotodia and recognized him as President on 28 March 2013, in what was viewed as "a form of surrender".
On 30 March officials from the Red Cross announced that they had found 78 bodies in the capital Bangui since rebels seized it a week earlier. It was unclear if the casualties were only civilians or whether they belonged to one of the factions in the conflict.
A new government headed by Tiangaye, with 34 members, was appointed on 31 March 2013; Djotodia retained the defense portfolio. There were nine members of Séléka in the government, along with eight representatives of the parties that had opposed Bozizé, while only one member of the government was associated with Bozizé. 16 positions were given to representatives of civil society. The former opposition parties were unhappy with the composition of the government; on 1 April, they declared that they would boycott the government to protest its domination by Séléka. They argued that the 16 positions given to representatives of civil society were in fact "handed over to Séléka allies disguised as civil society activists".
On 3 April 2013, African leaders meeting in Chad declared that they did not recognize Djotodia as President; instead, they proposed the formation of an inclusive transitional council and the holding of new elections in 18 months, rather than three years as envisioned by Djotodia. Speaking on 4 April, Information Minister Christophe Gazam Betty said that Djotodia had accepted the proposals of the African leaders; however, he suggested that Djotodia could remain in office if he were elected to head the transitional council. Djotodia accordingly signed a decree on 6 April for the formation of a transitional council that would act as a transitional parliament. The council was tasked with electing an interim president to serve during an 18-month transitional period leading to new elections.
The transitional council, composed of 105 members, met for the first time on 13 April 2013 and immediately elected Djotodia as interim President; there were no other candidates. A few days later, regional leaders publicly accepted Djotodia's transitional leadership, but, in a symbolic show of disapproval, stated that he would "not be called President of the Republic, but Head of State of the Transition". According to the plans for the transition, Djotodia would not stand as a candidate for President in the election that would conclude the transition.
- Brazil – On 25 December, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brazil issued a statement "urging the parties to observe an immediate cessation of hostilities and any acts of violence against the civilian population" and called for "the restoration of institutional legality in the Central African Republic". The Brazilian government stated that it has been in contact with the small number of Brazilian nationals residing in the country.
- France – On 27 December, CAR President Francois Bozizé requested international assistance to help with the rebellion, in particular from France and the United States. French President François Hollande rejected the plea, saying that the 250 French troops stationed at Bangui M'Poko International Airport are there "in no way to intervene in the internal affairs". Separately, a Foreign Ministry statement condemned "the continued hostility by the rebel groups", adding that the only solution to the crisis was dialogue.
- South Africa Like France, South Africa had numerous troops in the CAR since 2007. A Special Forces unit protected President Bozizé under Operation Morero and a second group trained FACA under Operation Vimbezela. Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula traveled to Bangui on 31 December 2012 to assess the situation. On 8 January the South African National Defence Force deployed 200 additional troops to the CAR, half of the force authorized by President Jacob Zuma. On 21 March President Bozizé traveled to Pretoria to meet with Zuma, allegedly to discuss the 72-hour ultimatum ultimatum that the rebels had given him. The South African troops suffered 13 casualties from the 1 Parachute Battalion and 27 wounded while defending against the advancing Séléka. On 24 March 2013 SANDF soldiers began withdrawing to Entebbe air base, with the reported intention to return to the CAR to retake control from Séléka.
- United States of America – On 17 December the State Department's Overseas Security Advisory Council published an emergency message warning US citizens about armed groups active in Mbrès and advising them to avoid travel outside Bangui. US Embassy personnel were prohibited from traveling by road outside the capital. On 24 December the State Department issued another warning. All non-essential personnel were evacuated, and the embassy switched to limited emergency consular services. On 28 December, the United States Embassy in Bangui suspended operations due to the ongoing rebel attacks; with Ambassador Laurence D. Wohlers and his diplomatic staff evacuating the country.
- African Union – Yayi Boni, then-chairman of the African Union, held a press conference in Bangui, stating, "I beg my rebellious brothers, I ask them to cease hostilities, to make peace with President Bozizé and the Central African people ... If you stop fighting, you are helping to consolidate peace in Africa. African people do not deserve all this suffering. The African continent needs peace and not war." Boni went on to call for dialogue between the current government and the rebels. The African Union suspended the Central African Republic from its membership on 25 March 2013.
- European Union – On 21 December the High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton called on the armed rebel groups to "cease all hostilities and to respect the Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement". European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid Kristalina Georgieva added that she was deeply worried over the situation in the country and that she strongly urged "all armed groups to respect international humanitarian law and the activities of humanitarians". On 1 January Ashton once again expressed concern over the violence and urged all parties involved to "take all necessary measures to end, without delay, all exactions against populations in Bangui neighbourhoods that undermine chances of a peaceful dialogue".
- United Nations – On 26 December the U.N. announced it was pulling all non-essential personnel out of the country due to the worsening security situation. In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the rebels' advance and warned that it had the potential to "gravely undermine the peace agreements in place". He also called on the government "to ensure the safety and security of U.N. personnel and its premises."
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