Increasing violence between guerillas and government forces in Central African Republic (CAR) has displaced an estimated 220,000 people, including 150,000 “internally displaced persons” (IDPs) and 66,000 refugees who have fled to Chad and Cameroon. In December, France sent special forces backed by helicopters and fighter jets to dislodge rebel fighters from Birao and others towns in the north of the country, and has maintained a contingent there since. Rebel forces were reported to have re-entered Birao March 3, but government soldiers and a detachment of French troops remained in the town, with the situation tense.
Guerillas from the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR) captured Birao and various other settlements in the sparsely populated north in October. CAR’s President Francis Bozizé, who took power in 2003 military coup, accuses the Sudanese government of backing the UFDR. Following Libya-brokered talks last month, the government signed an accord with the Democratic Front breakaway faction of the UFDR, but the UFDR’s military chief, Damane Zakaria, dismissed the deal.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has recommended sending up to 11,000 troops and helicopter gunships to Chad and CAR. US Chargé d’Affaires A. James Panos has declared CAR a disaster and requested emergency aid. (Reuters, March 3; Relief Web, March 1, AP, Feb. 2)
In December, French war planes carried out air strikes on rebel strongholds in Central African Republic.