Chad has been pretty quiet for the past three years but neighboring Central African Republic (CAR) failed to fulfill a peace deal worked out five years ago. As a result, a new rebel group has been advancing from northern CAR (near the Chad border) to the capital (on the Congo border). The rebels have lots of grievances. Back in 2011, elections were held in CAR and things did not go well. The electoral commission declared that president Francois Bozizé won the January 23
, 2011 vote, with a 66 percent majority. Opposition groups cried fraud and the disarmament effort failed to collect many weapons from the 6,000 rebels who showed up at disarmament centers. Most rebels that are still active have been operating as bandits, in many cases so intensively that civilian populations fled. Bozizé never provided all the benefits to rebels who accepted the amnesty, and these rebels have been threatening to overthrow the government to get what they were promised. Bozizé thought he could keep the rebels quiet with double-talk and lies. That did not work and now Bozizé has called on other nations in the region to help him out. These countries have agreed to send “peacekeepers” but so far these troops have fled at the sight of the approaching rebels.
CAR has been torn by a tribal conflict since November 2001, when former CAR Army Chief of Staff General Francois Bozize and his supporters fled to Chad after fighting broke out in CAR's capital Bangui. For two years Libya provided troops to help keep the new government secure. But in 2003, Bozize and his armed followers returned, and the unpopular Ange-Félix Patassé fled. Sort of. Patassé supporters, and people who simply opposed Bozize or government in general, got guns and adopted an attitude that they were a law unto themselves. Their bases were in northwestern CAR which was always a lawless place, made worse by years of civil war in nearby Chad, and heavy poaching activity from nearby Sudan.
Like Chad, CAR has too many people (population has quadrupled in the last 50 years) and too many ethnic groups/tribes (over 80). Many of the tribes do not get along with each other in the best of times, and now with the overcrowding and the spreading desert in the north things were getting very ugly. There is not enough water for herds or irrigation and not enough arable land. Foreign aid keeps a lot of people alive, and that aid comes in via the national government, which steals as much as it can. That’s the prize for rebels, the capital and all those lucrative government jobs and income from foreign mining operations. CAR is also 80 percent Christian and only ten percent (in the north) Moslem. Because of the aggressive nature of Moslems in the region, the CAR government is accusing the rebels of being backed by Chad rebels and Islamic radicals from Sudan. It’s unclear if this is so. The problem is that no one in the government is sure exactly who the rebels are. They are from the north and call themselves the Seleka coalition and the group has been organizing since last September. Some of the known members are from northern rebel groups that have been around for a decade or more.
All anyone in the south knows is that these northern rebels are angry and willing to fight. The few clashes in which government troops resisted, the rebels quickly defeated the soldiers. Fleeing survivors told of very angry northerners with guns. In three weeks the rebels swept down the few good roads from the north, seizing 11 towns, mainly ones on key crossroads. The rebels halted 190 kilometers north of the capital, in the town of Sibut. There are apparently only a few thousand rebel fighters and they don’t have a lot of ammo with them. They have captured some weapons and gear from retreating soldiers and picked up food and fuel from towns they captured. Capturing the capital and its 700,000 residents would be an all-or-nothing operation. Bozize thinks he has enough troops to defeat a rebel run for the capital. But the rebels might decide to make a go for it, rather than retreat north empty handed.
The government has massed forces in the town of Damara, 112 kilometers south of rebel held Sibut. There are also troops from Chad, Congo, and Gabon in Damara. The rebels have refused offers to form a coalition government and want Bozize and his cronies out. Bozize refuses to leave until his current term is up in 2016. There is general agreement that Bozize cannot be trusted and is a major thief. But he is head-of-state and African countries tend to help each other out to preserve current governments. Several African nations have pledged troops to help protect the Bozize government. There are also 400 African peacekeepers from
ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States). These troops are from Chad and are part of MICOPAX (Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in Central African Republic). Most of the peacekeepers are staying in the capital. But some are in Damara and the rebels have been told that if the peacekeepers are attacked that will be considered an act of aggression against the ten central African states that belong to ECCAS. Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, and Cameroon have each pledged 120 troops to the CAR peacekeeping force.
The CAR Army has only 4,000 troops, who are poorly paid, led, trained, and equipped. So far the CAR soldiers have fled when confronted by the rebels.
January 6, 2013: South Africa announced that it would send 400 troops to help defend the CAR government against northern rebels.
Rebels seized several villages near the crossroads town of Bambari, which is 300 kilometers east of Sibut. Both of these towns, which control the main roads from the north, are held by the rebels.
January 4, 2013: France is sending 150 more troops to CAR, to join those already there helping to protect the 1,200 French citizens in CAR. Most of the French are involved with mining operations in the south and foreign aid groups based in the capital.
January 2, 2013: The rebels announced that they have halted their advance in order to carry out peace negotiations.
December 31, 2012: Another 180 French troops arrived from Gabon. There are now 600 French military personnel in CAR and France has made it clear the troops are there to protect French citizens, not the Bozize government.
December 29, 2012: Rebels took the town of Sibut, which is 190 kilometers north of the capital and controls the only good road south to the capital. The CAR and Chad troops guarding the town retreated when they spotted the approaching rebels.
December 28, 2012: The U.S. has sent 50 troops to CAR to help evacuate American diplomats from the embassy in the capital.
ECCAS met in Gabon and agreed to send a thousand or more additional peacekeepers to CAR, to help defend the government there against rebels.
December 26, 2012: The UN ordered 200 staff and their families out of CAR as a safety precaution.
December 25, 2012: Rebels seized the town of Kaga Bandoro, which is 333 kilometers north of the capital. CAR and Chadian troops were in the town but fled when the rebels approached.
December 21, 2012: Rebels took Ippy, a town that is 500 kilometers north of the capital.
December 20, 2012: Rebels took Batangafo, a town that is 400 kilometers north of the capital.
December 19, 2012: Troops from Chad entered CAR at the request of the CAR government and took up positions in Sibut. At the same time the rebels took Bria, a mining town 600 kilometers northeast of the capital
December 15, 2012: Rebels rapidly moved south over 200 kilometers, taking towns on the main roads leading to the capital.
December 10, 2012: CAR rebels calling themselves the Seleka coalition began advancing south, from the Chad border, towards the capital.