A new alliance of three rebel groups in the Central African Republic (CAR), which has taken control of five towns in northern-central areas, could jeopardize a complex peace process that has been under way since 2007.
The rebel alliance seized control of the northern towns of Ndélé and Bamingui in the last few days, and has now also seized Bria, a central-northern town in the country's diamond-mining area.
On 18 December, following an appeal from CAR President Francois Bozizé, Chadian troops entered CAR to join the government army in re-taking the captured towns.
In a statement sent to AFP on 17 December, the alliance said that unless Bozizé's administration agrees to discuss their grievances over peace terms, the insurgents will do all they can "to change, sooner or later, this predatory regime".
The towns in rebel hands are Ndélé, Sam-Ouandja, Ouadda, Bamingui and Bria.
The road to Bangui
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, hundreds of people have been displaced from their homes in Sam-Ouandja and Ndélé. The organization noted, on 18 December, that the towns’ residents faced “restricted access to assistance and social services, and loss of personal belongings and livelihoods”.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the Danish Refugee Council, and the French Red Cross, which work in Ndélé and other nearby towns, have evacuated their staff to the capital, Bangui. MSF is maintaining a minimum presence at the hospital in Ndélé.
“The humanitarian community is deeply concerned about the humanitarian impact on the civilian population and urges all parties to observe strictly international humanitarian law, ensure that humanitarian access and space are unhindered as well as protect civilian lives and livelihoods,” Modibo Toure, acting UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in CAR, said in an 18 December statement.
Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa project director for the think tank International Crisis Group, told IRIN that the rebels were "progressing quite fast and they constitute a real threat for the regime".
"They managed to unite and they are sufficiently well equipped to challenge the CAR's army and, except for the Chadian army, no force can prevent them from taking the road to Bangui at this stage," he said.
An earlier alliance statement set out a long list of political and military demands and made a cessation of hostilities conditional on the government’s agreement to hold talks with them.
The rebels want: the implementation of the recommendations of the Inclusive Political Dialogue, which was held in 2008 among government, civil society, the opposition and the rebels; financial compensation for the rebels; the release of political prisoners; and the opening of an investigation into the disappearance of former CPJP (Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace) leader Charles Massi and other "crimes".
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The statement denounced, among other things, "the exclusion and the contempt, the favouritism and the tribalism" of the head of state and his family, as well as "the looting of the wealth of Central Africans by the government authorities who are supposed to protect them."
The authorities have not responded officially to the seizure of Bamingui or Bria, or to the creation of the new alliance, though the latest army communiqué, dated 12 December, noted the rebel capture of Ndélé.
"The capture of these towns is a direct challenge to the government," Vircoulon said. "The demands of the rebels are very clear and illustrate a high level of dissatisfaction with the peace process. They basically consider that the peace process is unfinished business and needs to be reactivated."
The new politico-military alliance is called Seleka CPSK-CPJP-UFDR, and was officially launched in a press release signed by the three leaders on 16 December. It is made up of the Wa Kodro Salute Patriotic Convention (CPSK), chaired by Nureldine Adam; CPJP, chaired by Dhaffane Mohamed Moussa; and a dissident faction of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), chaired Michel Djotodja.
The first two groups have signed peace deals with the government and were supposed to have laid down their arms.
A number of government soldiers have been captured or are missing. Twenty-two soldiers captured during the seizure of Sam-Ouandja on 10 December are still in the hands of their captors. Additionally, between 10 and 30 been untraceable since the fall of Bamingui, according to sources that also mention the disappearance of vehicles and other military equipment.
This sudden resurgence of hostilities in northern CAR could jeopardize the peace process and the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the government and three rebel movements - APRD (Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy); UFR (Union of Republican Forces); and UFDR.