Dakar - A split in the leadership of the Central African
Republic rebel coalition emerged on Monday, only two days after the insurgents
seized the capital Bangui and chased out the president.
One of the rebel leaders, Michel Djotodia, declared himself
president on Monday, saying he considers himself to be the new head of state.
But another rebel leader told reporters his group does not
recognise Michel Djotodia as president, and says they will challenge his
attempt to install himself at the helm.
Djotodia was asked by a French radio station if they should
address him as Mr President? He answered in an interview broadcast by RFI
radio on Monday: "I can consider myself to be, at this moment, the head of
Asked how long he would stay in power, Djotodia suggested
that he would stay as long as three years, the time remaining in the unfinished
term of President Francois Bozize, who fled the capital over the weekend and
whose whereabouts are now unknown.
"We've just barely started, and you are asking me how
long I plan to stay in power? [laughs] I can't say because you know full well
that we need time to bring back peace. There is insecurity ... It was said in
Libreville that we should respect the three year timeline for organizing free
and transparent elections. We won't stay any longer," he told RFI.
In Paris, Nelson N'Jadder, the president of the Revolution
for Democracy, one of the rebel groups belonging to the Seleka rebel coalition
which invaded the capital, said that his fighters do not recognise Djotodia. He
claimed the members of the rebel coalition had agreed that their aim was to
push to the presidential palace and then announce an 18-month-long transition
before new elections are held. There was never a consensus around appointing
Djotodia as their overall leader, he said.
"We came to liberate people"
"We do not recognise him as president," N'Jadder
told The Associated Press by telephone from Paris. "We had agreed that we
would push to Bangui in order to arrest Bozize and that we would then announce
an 18-month transition, a transition that would be as fast as possible - and
not one that would last three years," he said. "For your information,
I have enough soldiers loyal to me to attack Djotodia. I am planning to take
the Wednesday flight to Bangui."
N'Jadder said that rebels had been pillaging people's homes
in Bangui, including the homes of French expatriates. He said that on Monday,
he had received a phone call from France's ambassador to Bangui and had presented
his apology, explaining that those doing the pillaging were mostly Djotodia's
men. "We came to liberate the people, not to steal from them. This is
shameful. Unacceptable," he said.
The Seleka rebel coalition is made up of several rebel
groups, which last December began their rapid sweep into the Central African
Republic, a nation of 4.5 million located at the heart of the continent. The
rebels pushed all the way to a town just outside Damara, 75km from the capital,
before entering into talks with the government.
In January, they
signed a peace deal in Libreville, the capital of the neighbouring nation of
Gabon, agreeing to allow Bozize to carry out the last three years of his term,
in return for a number of concessions.
Last week, they declared the peace deal void, saying Bozize
had failed to free their prisoners and had refused to send back the South
African troops that were guarding him, two of the points of the accord.
In just three days, they swept past Damara, marking the
"red line" set up by a regional force to divide rebel-held territory
from the area under government control, and advanced all the way to a
checkpoint, PK12, just outside the capital.
Hunt for Joseph Kony
Bozize fled with a
coterie of loyalists, leaving by car across the border into neighboring DRC,
said N'Jadder and others. It was unclear if he remained in DRCor if he had
traveled onward to another nation.
The speed of the rebel advance, and the fact that they
succeeded in pushing past the South African troops stationed in Bangui suggests
they are well-armed, and likely benefiting from the support of neighboring
nations. There has been speculation that either Chad, or Sudan or Gabon
provided the rebels with arms and logistical support. Djotodia rejected the
"If we picked up arms, it's not because we were pushed
by this or that person," he told RFI. "It's poverty simply put that
pushed us to pick up arms - that's all."
The coup is expected to affect the hunt for Joseph Kony,
said the commander of African troops tracking the the fugitive warlord. Bozize
was a strong supporter of African efforts to dismantle Kony's Lord's Resistance
Army and allowed the creation of two anti-Kony military bases in his country.
Ugandan Brigadier Dick Olum, speaking from his South Sudanese
military base in Nzara, said Monday he is concerned by past rebel statements
that all foreign troops must leave the country. At least 3 350 African troops are
currently deployed against the LRA in South Sudan and Central African Republic.
The United States also has anti-Kony military advisers in
CAR. The US Africa Command didn't have any immediate comment on Monday.