Rebels in the Central African Republic were advancing on the capital Bangui on Friday after overwhelming a multinational African force at a key checkpoint some 75 kilometres north of the capital, a military source told AFP.
Rebels in the Central African Republic were closing in on the capital Bangui on Friday afternoon after forcing their way through a checkpoint outside the city manned by international forces, AFP reported.
The advance came a day after leaders of the Seleka rebel alliance rejected a peace offer from the country’s president.
In Bangui, panicked residents ran through the streets and shops were closed, while schools sent children home after national radio announced the rebel advances.
The rebels from the Seleka coalition had shot their way through the Damara checkpoint, some 75 kilometres north of the capital, late on Friday morning, according to a source in the Multinational Force of Central Africa (FOMAC), which was manning the roadblock.
"The rebels stormed the checkpoint and passed through... There were shots but no wounded," the unnamed source told AFP. "They are on the road to Bangui. We're on the highest alert."
A spokesman for the Seleka rebel alliance said that since pushing through the checkpoint at Damara, the alliance’s fighters were now “about 22 km from the outskirts of Bangui.”
“Our objective is to take Bangui today,” the spokesman told Reuters. “We have 2,000 men on the ground and some have slipped into the capital.”
A regional peacekeeping force from neighbouring central African states had established Damara as a “red line” for the Seleka not to cross when they bore down on the capital last year.
But residents in Damara said the peacekeepers had simply stood aside to allow the rebels to take the town on Friday.
“The regional Central African forces who were here ran away. Only the Chadians remained and they held talks with the rebels,” Bienvenue Yakesse, an inhabitant of Damara, told Reuters by telephone. “The rebels now occupy the whole town.”
A senior official with the regional peacekeeping force said their mandate did not allow them to intervene unless attacked.
“There is not much resistance from the Central African army. Bangui could fall in a couple of hours,” the official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-03-22