The closer the presidential elections loom in the Central African Republic (CAR), the more instability seems to appear all throughout it.
On December 22nd, rebels in the country seized Bambari, the country’s fourth-largest city, as clashes broke out on a key highway in the west of the country five days before nationwide elections.
The attacks came after the government accused former president Francois Bozize of seeking to mount a coup with armed groups ahead of upcoming elections.
At CAR’s request, Russia and Rwanda have sent military personnel to ensure some semblance of order.
“The town is under the control of armed groups,” Bambari Mayor Abel Matchipata said, while a senior government official confirmed “they are in the town, we are waiting for reinforcements, which are on their way.”
Bambari is located 380 kilometres (240 miles) northeast of the capital Bangui.
The attack on the city triggered a two-hour gunfight with CAR troops and the United Nations’ peacekeeping force MINUSCA, sources in NGOs and the UN said.
“There has been no violence towards local people, but they have ransacked the police station, the gendarmerie and people’s houses,” Matchipata said.
The unnamed sources said the rebels were led by an armed group called the Unity for Peace in Central Africa (UPC), one of the militias contesting the government in the runup to the December 27 polls.
A convoy of commercial trucks travelling under MINUSCA escort was blocked on the route by the Central African armed forces, an AFP journalist saw.
On December 22nd, Russia said it had dispatched 300 military instructors to the CAR at Bangui’s request “to train the military personnel of the national army” under an existing cooperation agreement.
It had previously deployed 175 military instructors to the CAR, according to official figures.
Rwanda has also sent “several hundred men” under a bilateral agreement, the CAR government said.
The deployment was confirmed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, although he did not give details on numbers.
The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, called for “calm and restraint” ahead of the elections.
“Anyone who commits, orders, incites, encourages or contributes, in any other way, to the commission of crimes” would be liable for prosecution either by Bangui courts or by the ICC, Bensouda warned.
Private security guards employed by Russian companies already provide protection for President Faustin-Archange Touadéra and are involved in the training of local armed forces.
The opposition has called for the December 27 vote to be cancelled until “peace and security” are restored.
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