Surrendered Central African rebels flee

AFP , Sunday 2 Feb 2014

African Union peacekeepers and French troops take position at the PK11 checkpoint in Bangui, Central African Republic, Thursday Jan. 23, 2014 (Photo: AP)

Around 200 rebel fighters in the Central African Republic who surrendered to African Union troops at the weekend in the key town of Sibut fled overnight, a military source said on Sunday.

"Unfortunately they fled in the night. They've gone to Kaga Bandoro," an officer in the African Union force (MISCA) told AFP.

Kaga Bandoro is some 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of Sibut, the town which had been held for several days by former members of the mainly Muslim Seleka rebellion -- causing terrified residents to flee -- before it was recaptured by MISCA troops on Saturday.

It is thought the rebels fled because of fear of revenge attacks by members of the anti-balaka Christian militia. They had initially agreed to be held by peacekeepers.

According to Colonel Abdelkader Djelani, a Seleka officer who was part of the group which fled Sibut, the rebels were concerned about the lack of security around them.

"We want solutions and really secure camps. In Bangui, Seleka confined to camps... (were) attacked by anti-balaka."

He added that the former Seleka rebels were "ready to disarm" depending on the conditions.

Some of the residents of the town were cautiously thinking of returning home after news that African Union soldiers were now in control.

One resident, Innocent, said however there were still fears among the general population because the "Seleka were very violent with us".

A Gabonese contingent from MISCA entered the town on Saturday.

The taking of the northern town was the latest challenge faced by peacekeepers struggling to maintain order in a country the size of France with a long history of coups, attempted coups and army mutinies.

MISCA is supported by a French contingent of around 1,600 troops, and the European Union has committed a further 500 troops.

However, the interior of the country is a lawless zone ruled by warlords, with few or no foreign troops present, and newly elected transitional President Catherine Samba Panza has said more troops are needed.

The capture of Sibut came on the same day that the peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic received pledges of $132 million from other African states.

"We will be judged and measured by our efforts to protect the people of the Central African Republic," UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliassonhe said.

"We must not let them down... we must not fail to prevent another huge tragedy in Africa."

AU officials said a total of $410 million (304 million euros) is required just to keep MISCA going for one year.

A total of almost $315 million has now been raised or pledged for Central African Republic.

The Central African Republic descended into chaos 10 months ago when the Seleka overthrew the government and installed one of their leaders, Michel Djotodia, as the country's first Muslim president.

Djotodia failed to control his Seleka fighters, who began targeting people from the Christian majority, prompting the emergence of self-defence groups that launched revenge attacks on Muslims amid reports of murder, mutilation, rape and looting by both sides.

By the time Djotodia was effectively ousted by regional leaders on January 10 for his failure to end the spiralling bloodshed, about a million people were displaced in a population of 4.6 million.

The installation of a new government has failed to stem the violence, which has escalated in recent days.

Red Cross officials said they had collected 30 bodies in the past three days after fighting in the capital Bangui that also left 60 people wounded.

Samba Panza on Friday criticised the rebels' latest actions, saying they aimed to "destabilise her mandate" at a time when the government was calling for tolerance and national reconciliation.

Around 80 percent of the CAR's population is Christian, but it has a significant Muslim minority who live mainly in the north of the country.

The violence has created a humanitarian crisis, and the UN World Food Programme said in Geneva it urgently needed $95 million to provide food assistance.

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