UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
CAR: Government troops recapture rebel-held towns
BANGUI, 4 Dec 2006 (IRIN) - The Central African Republic (CAR) army has recaptured two more towns in the north of the country that were occupied in November by rebels opposed to President François Bozize.
The rebels now control only the town of Ouadda-Djalle in the northern prefecture of Vakaga, after the army recaptured Ndele on Sunday and Sam-Ouandja on Friday. Ndele is in Bamingui-Bangoran prefecture and Sam-Ouandja in Haute Kotto.
Army officials, who requested anonymity, said they were poised to recapture Ouadda-Djalle, 110 km south of Birao, the provincial capital. The army had already recaptured the northern towns of Ouadda, Birao and Mouka.
The director of the CAR presidential press, Barthelemy Feidoka, announced on national radio on Sunday that the army had regained control of Ndele after fierce fighting between rebels and government troops. However, he did not give any casualty figures.
Denying Feidoka's claim that the army had taken Ndele after fighting, an official in charge of the rebels' military operations, ‘Capt’ Diego Albator Yao, told IRIN on Monday that their men had left the town before the army arrived.
"We decided to leave before the coming of government forces to avoid air strikes on civilians by the French troops," Yao said, referring to the military aid France is providing to the CAR government to quell the rebellion.
The rebels, a coalition known as Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement (UFDR), began operations on 30 October with the capture of Birao. The rebels said they resorted to arms "to protest [against] the exclusionist policy" of Bozize's government, claiming that since seizing power from President Ange-Felix Patasse in March 2003, Bozize had ruled on an ethnic basis.
When the insurrection began, the government blamed Sudan for providing help to the rebels, a charge denied by the Sudanese.
Regarding their departure from Ndele, Yao said French troops would have intervened if they had resisted the town's recapture. He claimed there had been deaths on 27 November and on Thursday when French troops used six jet fighters and four helicopters to strike Birao and Ndele.
At the same time, Yao accused the government forces of abuses against civilians. He said government troops had killed innocent civilians and raped women during their recapture of Sam-Ouandja.
"We want an international commission to go to the towns formerly controlled by us to investigate these accusations," he said.
The government has not denied or confirmed the rebels' allegations.
However, reports from the recaptured towns indicate that civilians were fleeing the government forces. A businessman in the town of Sam-Ouandja, Ibrahim Zakaria, told IRIN on Sunday that thousands of people were hiding in the bush and some were heading towards the Sudanese town of Amdafok to seek refuge there. He claimed soldiers had looted shops in the town.
"We are in the bush to escape violence by the regular army," Zakaria said. He said his group was nearly 50 km east of Sam-Ouandja.
He estimated the number of people in the bush to be at least 5,000 and described their living conditions as deplorable.
"There are also pregnant women and children among us and we have no shelter, no potable water and no proper food," he said.
On 1 December, hundreds of civilians were reported to be fleeing towards neighbouring Sudan after air strikes by French jet fighters against rebels near Birao. Residents in the region said those fleeing by road to Sudan were women and children. Most of the men, fearful of being targeted as rebel fighters, fled into the bush instead.
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