Fierce fighting erupted on Sunday in the Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui, where Séléka rebels are trying to topple President François Bozizé.
Gunbattles erupted around the presidential palace in the capital of the Central African Republic after rebels advanced into the city vowing to topple President Francoise Bozize.
An AFP correspondent near the palace in the centre of Bangui reported intense fighting at around 0700 GMT before the gunfire became more sporadic.
It was not immediately known if Bozize, who has not been seen since his return from South Africa on Friday, was inside the palace.
Fighters in the Seleka rebel coalition advanced into Bangui on Saturday, ignoring a call for talks to avoid a “bloodbath”, after the collapse of a two-month-old peace deal in the notoriously unstable and deeply poor former French colony.
“Today will be decisive,” Colonel Djouma Narkoyo, one of the Seleka military commanders on the ground, told AFP. “We call on our brothers in FACA (the Central African army) to lay down their arms,” Narkoyo said.
Eric Massi, a Seleka spokesman based in Paris, said rebel forces had launched an offensive early Sunday.
“Our troops are around the palace. We are facing down the last forces loyal to President Bozize,” Massi said.
Bozize, who himself launched a coup in 2003, has not issued any statement about the latest unrest.
Narkoyo had told AFP on Saturday the rebels were ready to meet with regional African leaders on the crisis, but refused to negotiate with Bozize.
And he warned that if Seleka a loose alliance of three rebel movements captured Bangui, it would set up a new government.
On Saturday, rebels said they had moved past a checkpoint that effectively marks the entrance to the capital, although a Central African military source denied the claim.
But Bangui resident Francis Komgdo, who lives near the checkpoint, told AFP the rebels had arrived in the area, some in vehicles others on motorbikes, occasionally firing in the air.
Paris-based rebel spokesman Eric Massi said Saturday the rebel leadership was urging its forces on the ground to refrain from “looting or score-settling with the local population”.
Gunfire and explosions on Saturday saw the streets of Bangui emptied as local people fled to their homes. Virtually the only traffic was military vehicles patrolling the main highways.
The city was plunged into darkness after rebels sabotaged a hydroelectric power plant in Boali, north of the capital, an official with the Enerca electricity company and residents said.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye on Saturday called on the rebels to accept talks to “avoid a bloodbath”.
Date created : 2013-03-24