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Central African Bush War (2004-2009)

Shortly after Boziz's ascension to the presidency, in 2004, a civil conflict broke out in the country that came to be known as the Central African Bush War. Under the leadership of Michel Djotodia, and working under the banner of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), was a coalition of various rebel groups. Ultimately, neighboring Chad helped to broker a deal between the CAR government and the UFDR.

In March 2003, a 6-month rebellion culminated in a military coup led by former Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Francois Bozize, with the assistance of demobilized Chadian soldiers and the tacit involvement of active Chadian soldiers. The coup deposed then-President Ange-Felix Patasse, who had been re-elected in 1999. General Bozize declared himself President, suspended the Constitution, and dissolved the National Assembly. In 2003, he appointed a Prime Minister; appointed a transitional cabinet composed of members of all political parties, including the party of deposed President Patasse, and civil society; and established a National Transitional Council (CNT), a legislative body comprised of 96 representatives from civil society and all political parties.

During 2004, the Government repeatedly affirmed its commitment to reinstate democratic governance, and took a series of actions in preparation for national elections in 2005. On 05 December 2004, citizens approved by national referendum a new Constitution, which took effect in late December 2004. The Constitution, which was reportedly approved by 90 percent of referendum participants, is similar to the previous one that President Bozize suspended upon seizing power in 2003.

The economy, already extremely weak because of repeated political-military troubles and a cycle of coup attempts, was in a state of collapse, with approximately 60 percent of the population living at or below the poverty line. The economy was partially market based and partially government directed, and was dominated by subsistence agriculture. Approximately 80 percent of its 3.8 million citizens were farmers. Some international donors continued to suspend financial assistance during the year. Large-scale looting and vandalism in the wake of the coup devastated not only the state infrastructure and facilities but also the remaining economic and industrial activity of the country.

The salary arrears owed to civilian employees and the military continued to impair the functioning of the Government and the ability of the State to enforce the rule of law. Misappropriation of public funds and corruption in the Government remained widespread. In addition, the large number of displaced persons continued to adversely affect economic productivity, especially in the agricultural sector, during the year.

On 17 April 2004, security forces reportedly killed eight "Liberators," Chadian combatants who had helped the President seize power in 2003. Prior to the killings, the Chadian combatants had staged violent demonstrations, looted approximately 75 homes in a Bangui suburb, and demanded payment from President Bozize for their support during the rebellion that allowed him to depose former President Patasse. During the year, the President reportedly paid each Liberator $1,000 (504,000 CFA francs) before they ostensibly returned to Chad.

During 2004, pockets of lawlessness persisted in parts of the country, and the Government was significantly affected by insecurity and the threat of conflict. In April 2004, the Government deployed 200 soldiers to fight banditry in the northern and northwest provinces, including Kemo and Ouham-Pende.

During 2005, unidentified armed groups--thought to be common criminals and remnants of insurgency groups from previous conflicts, including former pro-Bozize combatants from Chad--continued to attack, rob, beat, and rape civilians and loot and burn villages in the north and west. Some human rights observers said they believed that many of the armed groups were comprised of the same rebels and mercenaries, including Chadian ex-combatants, who helped Bozize seize power in the 2003 coup; these observers said that because Bozize had been unable to pay the ex-combatants what they considered a proper compensation after he seized power, the ex-combatants were collecting payments from civilians by force.

In 2005 the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB), a special antibanditry police squad, continued to arbitrarily execute suspected bandits without respecting the basic due process rights of the accused and was responsible for other extrajudicial killings and deaths resulting from torture. The OCRB, which normally operated only in and around Bangui, committed such abuses with tacit government support and popular approval, partly because the OCRB's actions were seen as an effective means of reducing crime.

The OCRB often apprehended suspected armed robbers, bandits, and thieves after conducting informal, undocumented investigations; transported them to Cattin, a town three miles southwest of Bangui; shot and killed them; and then used open-air jeeps to drive the dead bodies through town in broad daylight (to exhibit the dead as a deterrent to crime) before depositing the bodies at a morgue.

Significant numbers of unidentified bandits and former rebels continued to severely impede freedom of movement--including that of traders and delivery trucks--particularly in northern, and northwestern zones of the country that the government effectively did not control. The government was also unable to control highway bandits operating in the eastern prefectures of Ouaka and Haute-Kotto. The highway bandits, or coupeurs de routes, often constructed road barriers to stop drivers, robbed them, and sometimes killed them if they refused to pay. Because many travelers ceased carrying large sums of money with them, many highway bandits in the northern and northwestern areas of the country reportedly turned to the more lucrative business of kidnapping and targeted the children of a traditionally wealthy ethnic group.

Misappropriation of public funds and corruption in the government remained widespread in 2005. Corruption continued to contribute to the country's incapacity to pay more than 45 months of government salary arrears, which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and local human rights activists said was a major threat to the country's security, stability, and advancement of human rights.

Fighting between rebels and government security forces contributed significantly to a "political and military crisis," according to a UN report released in December 2006. The fighting resulted in numerous civilian killings and, along with widespread banditry and kidnappings by unidentified groups, caused the displacement during the year of approximately 185,000 persons, almost 5 percent of the population.

The sharp deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation in the country was compounded by regional instability and arms proliferation. Despite the presence of almost 400 peacekeeping soldiers from neighboring member countries of the Economic and Monetary Union of Central Africa (CEMAC), lawlessness persisted in large swaths of the country, particularly in the north, and analysts estimated that only 2 percent of the country's territory was under state authority. Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control of security forces.

Many observers said the government's counteroffensive against rebels in the northwest targeted the population of the region--a traditional stronghold of the opposition party--which made it difficult for the government to collect intelligence about the rebel movement and further alienated communities already suffering from socio-economic marginalization due to long-term insecurity. Reports of extrajudicial killings by the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) decreased, but reports of the military killing civilians increased sharply due to government counteroffensive operations against rebels in the north.

Several politically motivated rebel groups in the northwest and northeast -- including the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (APRD) and the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR)--emerged during the year and resulted in an increase in attacks on civilians across the country, including counteroffensive attacks by the military, which accused some civilians of supporting the rebels. Rebels of the APRD partly controlled areas in the northwest, allegedly with support from Chadian rebels. Well-armed members of the UFDR in the northeastern region bordering Sudan and Chad attacked and overran the Gordil military camp in Vakaga Prefecture in June, resulting in casualties among the military and the multinational CEMAC peacekeeping force.

Between October and December, the UFDR seized control of four towns in the northeast and demanded that the government agree to negotiations on sharing political power with the rebel front, which by November had nominally united the country's various rebel groups under the name of the UFDR. The government, which accused the Sudanese government of supporting the rebellion in the northeast, refused. With French military assistance, government security forces regained control of these towns by the end of 2006; however, many feared that the rebels would relaunch their offensive.

During 2007 there were numerous credible reports that other elements of the security forces, including the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), and particularly the presidential guard forces, committed unlawful killings while apprehending suspects and, allegedly, in connection with personal disputes or rivalries.

Armed bandits, who have contributed to the country's instability for many years, demonstrated a growing willingness to kill civilians during 2007. In the central part of the country, armed groups known as zaraguinas engaged in widespread kidnappings, at times killing family members of individuals who could not or would not pay ransom. Although information about these armed groups and highway bandits was difficult to obtain, aid workers and UN officials described them as a combination of common criminals and remnants of insurgent groups from the recurring conflicts in the region.

In the northwest, several politically motivated rebel groups, including the Popular Army for the Restoration of the Republic and Democracy (APRD) and the Central African People's Democratic Front, continued their struggle against government security forces. Rebels of the APRD partly controlled areas in the northwest, allegedly with support from Chadian rebels.

In the northeast, bordering Sudan and Chad, well-armed members of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) engaged in significant fighting with French and Central African forces in February and March in a failed attempt to capture the town of Birao, resulting in the destruction of much of the town and the mass displacement of civilians. A ceasefire and tentative peace agreement reached after government negotiations with rebels in April led to an uneasy peace in the northeast, where there was little fighting for the rest of 2007.

Fighting between government security forces and rebel groups, attacks on civilians by rebels, armed banditry, and the depredations of government soldiers contributed to a notable increase in the number of IDPs during 2007 - from approximately 150,000 in December 2006 to an estimated 212,000 by year's end. These various attackers reportedly killed and raped civilians and burned and looted their villages.

In the view of many observers, the government controlled little more than half of the country during 2008. Although government forces and rebel groups maintained a cease-fire for much of the year, renewed fighting in September, October, and December jeopardized the peace process underway between the government and rebel leaders. Civilians were caught in the crossfire between the rebels and counterattacks by the military, which often accused them of supporting the rebels, although these battles were fewer than in the previous year.

Sporadic fighting between government security forces and rebel groups, attacks on civilians by rebels, armed banditry, and the occasional misbehavior by government soldiers kept many internally displaced persons (IDPs) from their homes. Nonetheless, the decrease in active combat from the previous year allowed many to return to their homes, particularly those from more rural villages. UNHCR estimated the number of IDPs decreased during the year from approximately 212,000 in December 2007 to an estimated 101,000 at year's end.

France confined its operation to protecting French citizens residing in Chad, offering no substantial assistance to the government troops. French Defense Minister Herve Morin said France maintained a "neutral" military position in the conflict in Chad and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said "we will support the party in power, support legality."

In December 2008 an Inclusive Political Dialogue between the government and rebels and political opposition was held and a measure to form a government of national unity was adopted. In January 2009 President Bozize formed a new government. Two rebel groups, the APRD [People's Army for Restoration of Democracy] and UFDR [Union of Democratic Forces for Rally] entered into the new government. However sporadic clashes between government forces and rebels have continued in 2009.

But in 2013 the Seleka rebel alliance said President Bozize had failed to carry out previous peace agreements from 2007 and 2008.

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Page last modified: 16-12-2015 18:57:37 ZULU