Exclusive report from a Central African Republic city conquered by rebels

A group of rebels in the northern part of the country. Non-dated photo posted on the RJDH-RCA website.
 
 
When the Seleka rebels take over a city, they systematically dismantle the telephone networks to block all communications with the outside world. However, when communications were temporarily restored, we were able to get in touch with one of our Observers in Kaga-Bandoro, a city in the Central African Republic that fell to the Seleka rebel coalition on December 25.
 
Kaga-Bandoro, a city of nearly 25,000 residents, is located 300 kilometres north of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.
 
After three weeks of successful advances, the rebel troops have taken several of the country’s key cities and threatened to take the capital, which is currently held by the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) and some elements of the Central African Multinational Force (FOMAC). Only one strategic city, Damara, still stands between the rebels and the capital. On Wednesday, they agreed to halt their advance and sit down for peace talks with the government.
Contributors

“There was no shooting”

Basile (not his real name) lives in Kaga-Bandoro.
 
I witnessed the arrival of the rebels on the morning of December 25. There were about 40 of them, and about six pick-up trucks. We felt no hostility on their end. The FACA [Central African Armed Forces] had left the previous night [other sources contacted by RFI confirmed this. The authorities claim that the FACA were forced to flee after being attacked by the Séléka rebels]. The rebels had rocket-launchers but there was no shooting.
 
The first thing the rebels did was to search government buildings. I think they were looking for weapons. They went to the FACA bureaus, to the local forest rangers’ building, and to police stations. In the end, they trashed all of these places. The district chief’s office was also plundered, as well as the offices of the International Rescue Committee.
 
Some local residents also became involved in looting, once the rebels were done. For instance, the rebels destroyed a gas station in order to stock up on fuel. Once they left, villagers ran to the station with buckets to take whatever was left. It became a complete free-for-all; at one point a man who felt that he wasn’t getting his fair share threw in a lighted match. As a result, about 20 people were injured.
 
 
“They didn’t have enough vehicles so they stole motorcycles for their advance on Sibut”
 
Currently, there are very few rebels left in Kaga-Bandoro. Another faction met up with them, and most of them advanced together on the city of Sibut. They didn’t have enough vehicles to start off with, so they stole motorcycles.
 
The Central African Army was conspicuous in its absence. They could have defended the city, as the FACA has far more soldiers than the rebels. But when rumors spread that the rebels were heavily armed and better trained, the military chiefs became frightened.
 
“There are many foreigners within the rebel coalition”
 
I was unable to speak with the rebels, but I did notice that many of them were foreigners, mostly from Chad and Sudan.
 
Currently, the situation is calm, but given that we don’t know how the negotiations between the government and the rebels will turn out, we realise it is entirely possible that the rebels will return in greater force and use our city as a rear base.
 
My family has taken refuge at the headquarters of the Peacebuilding Mission [Micopax, the armed force of the Economic Community of Central African States], an intervention force composed of soldiers from Congo-Brazzaville, who train here in Kaga-Bandoro. Even though they are not allowed to intervene in the conflict, we feel that we are safer with them. If the rebels were to attack them, it would be like declaring war against all the countries that belong to the Economic Community of Central African States. I don’t think they would do that.
 
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