Central African Republic Rebels Occupy Two Towns, Bishop Says

Rebels in the Central African Republic attacked two southern towns and threatened residents in a third, which the presidency said violated a peace agreement signed earlier this month.

The towns of Dimbi and Kembe, near Bangassou about 475 kilometers (295 miles) east of the capital, Bangui, were captured by members of the Seleka rebel group on Jan. 20, Juan Jose Aguirre, the bishop of Bangassou, said in a phone interview today from the city.

Djuma Narkoyo, a spokesman for Seleka, confirmed the rebels entered Dimbi, though he denied they occupied Kembe and said they have no plans to continue on to Bangassou. The fighters were on patrol in those areas and have been told return to their base at Bambari, 264 kilometers northwest of Bangassou, he said.

Central African Republic President Francois Bozize last week appointed Nicholas Tiangaye as prime minister to form a unity government designed to end a month-long rebellion that sought his ouster. The formation of a new government was agreed to in peace talks between the government and Seleka in Libreville, the Gabonese capital, on Jan. 11. Seleka says it began the rebellion because Bozize, 66, failed to honor a 2008 peace deal.

Cyriaque Gonda, a spokesman for Bozize’s coalition, said the attacks on the towns contravene the Libreville pact. The accord calls for the rebels to withdraw from towns they occupied since beginning an offensive on Dec. 10 and to “refrain from all acts of violence,” he said in comments aired on Radio Ndeke Luka, a Bangui-based broadcaster.

The fighters destroyed police buildings and residential properties in Dimbi, while breaking the doors to a prison in Kembe, he said. Residents have reported seeing the renegades patrolling about 17 kilometers from Bangassou, Aguirre said. “There is panic here,” he said. “Men, women and children, all are in search of shelter.”

The Central African Republic has been plagued by violence since independence from France in 1960, with at least four battles for Bangui taking place from 1996 to 2003, when Bozize toppled predecessor Ange-Felix Patasse, whom he served as army chief.

Pangea Diamondfields Inc., an Isle of Man-based exploration company, owns a concession in Dimbi that is currently on care and maintenance, according to the company’s website. Axmin Inc., a Canadian gold explorer, said Jan. 7 it delayed plans to open a mine in the Central African Republic by at least a year because of the rebellion.