Rebels, C. African Republic leaders head to talks
Rebels, C. African Republic leaders head to talks
This week’s meetings in Libreville, Gabon, come a month after fighters from several armed groups began their rebellion against a government that has wielded little power over its vast and sparsely populated north.
While the rebels have halted their advance toward the capital of Bangui, a city of 700,000 people, they now hold a dozen communities. The rebellion has posed the greatest threat to President Francois Bozize’s presidency since he himself seized power in 2003.
Bozize already has offered up the possibility of a coalition government, a proposal the rebels have dismissed. A rebel spokesman has said the fighters want Bozize gone, a stipulation that could derail talks altogether.
Some residents of this nation of 4.4 million have little faith the government will be able to reach a lasting agreement with the rebels, especially given that multiple peace accords already have been signed over the years with multiple groups.
“Even if the rebel leaders reach an agreement with the Bangui government, their people on the ground will not get their piece of cake,” said Henry Yenzapa, 42, a history professor at the University of Bangui. They’re just carrying out a formality in Libreville in order to return, and the Central African crisis will never be resolved.”
While the rebels had vowed to halt their advance pending the negotiations, residents said two communities were seized over the weekend.
In the capital the presence of regional troops who have been sent from Gabon, Cameroon, Republic of Congo and Chad to help stabilize the country has reassured residents. South Africa also has said it is sending several hundred soldiers to help support national forces here.
“The military aid provided by the (10-nation) Economic Community of Central African States reassures us that the rebels are not going to continue their advance in the direction of Bangui,” said Patrick Bangui, a 27-year-old student.
Meetings are to begin Tuesday, with high-level discussions due to take place later in the week.
The shaky rebel alliance, Seleka, is made up of four rebel groups all known by their French acronyms — UFDR, CPJP, FDPC and CPSK.
Cyriaque Gonda, who has negotiated on behalf of the government with the rebels and will be in Gabon this week, says some of them couldn’t even accept sitting together as recently as 2008. In September 2011, fighting between the CPJP and the UFDR left at least 50 people dead in the town of Bria and more than 700 homes destroyed.
Gonda noted that the Bozize government already has signed several agreements with each rebel movement.
“I am convinced that this meeting is the last chance,” he said. “This is the last time.”
The rebels want to renegotiate those previous accords from 2007, and say that key provisions were never fully implemented. Gonda said there have been financial constraints that have prevented the desperately poor country from completing the demobilization process.
The rebels “are going to have zero confidence in many promises that Bozize makes,” said Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. Still, she had a scrap of optimism.
“There’s a possibility of an agreement — the question is building confidence on both sides, particularly the rebel side and maintaining it going forward,” Cooke said.
Taliban warn Kabul residents to ‘keep away’ ahead of attacks
- The militant group has issued such warnings to civilians before, including during a failed attempt to take the western city of Farah last week
- The Taliban are stepping up their Al Khandaq spring offensive in an apparent rejection of calls for the militants to take up the Afghan government’s February offer of peace talks.
KABUL: The Taliban warned Kabul residents Monday to avoid “military centers” in the heavily fortified city, saying they are planning more attacks in the capital where civilians have long taken the brunt of the casualties.
The militant group has issued such warnings to civilians before, including during a failed attempt to take the western city of Farah last week, but it is believed to be the first time they have singled out Kabul.
The warning comes after the United Nations said the war-weary capital — where the Daesh group is also stepping up its attacks — is already the deadliest place in the country for civilians.
The Taliban said they are planning more attacks on “the enemy’s military and intelligence centers” as part of an annual spring offensive.
“Therefore, to avoid civilian casualties and only cause damage to enemy military, we are asking Kabul residents to keep away... We don’t want even a single innocent civilian to be killed,” a statement published online said.
The group did not define what was meant by “military and intelligence centers.”
Such targets are difficult to avoid given the overcrowded city is the heart of the country’s intelligence, government and military operations and also plagued by traffic jams due to ubiquitous checkpoints and barriers.
“Any attacks or explosions, even a small one, would cause civilian casualties because military installations are located in the center of the city near people’s houses,” political and military analyst Nik Mohammad told AFP.
The Taliban’s statement was pure propaganda, he said, adding that if they fight in the cities “you will definitely kill civilians, there is no way to avoid that.”
The Taliban are stepping up their Al Khandaq spring offensive in an apparent rejection of calls for the militants to take up the Afghan government’s February offer of peace talks.
The group portrays itself as taking care to avoid civilian casualties, but has claimed attacks such as a massive bomb hidden in an ambulance in January which detonated in a crowded street and killed more than 100 people.
The extremists’ chilling ability to hit at the heart of the country despite increased police checks has spotlighted security and intelligence failures, with the government of President Ashraf Ghani coming under increasing pressure to protect civilians.
Kabul — overflowing with returning refugees and internally displaced Afghans fleeing war and seeking jobs and security — has been the deadliest place in the country for civilians for months.
Figures from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) show that Afghan civilians were deliberately targeted in militant attacks and suicide blasts in 2017.
The capital is a top target, with 16 percent of all casualties during the year — a total of 1,831 people killed and wounded — occurring in Kabul alone. The UN has warned that 2018 could be even deadlier.