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Split appears in CAR rebel coalition

25 March 2013, 15:09

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 state."

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 claim.

"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.



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