Central African Rebels Plan to Renew Government, Hold Vote

Central African Republic’s rebel Seleka movement, which seized power two days ago, said it will reorganize the government by tomorrow and later hold elections.

The group is also working to restore calm in the capital, Bangui, after looting broke out following their capture of the city, said Christophe Gazambeti, a member of Seleka who was appointed as communications minister in a unity government. A curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. is in force in Bangui, while French forces control the city’s airport and Air France flights are operating, the French Embassy in the country said on its website.

“We have to get the looters off the streets and our soldiers back to the barracks,” Gazambeti said in a phone interview today from Bangui. Regional troops under the command of the Central African Multinational Force are helping restore stability “and French forces have arrived, so that will help too,” he said.

President Francois Bozize fled the country to neighboring Cameroon on March 24 after the rebels seized Bangui. Seleka last week ended a cease-fire, agreed on in January, when Bozize failed to meet rebel demands to double the number of Cabinet posts they hold in a two-month-old unity government.

“The government is going to be reshuffled, probably within the next 24 hours or so,” Gazambeti said. “Of course there will be elections. There will be municipal, legislative and presidential elections,” he said, without saying when.

Asset Freezes

Gazambeti was among seven Seleka officials the African Union said will be subject to asset freezes and travel bans after the unconstitutional change of government. The continental body also suspended Central African Republic’s membership.

“The rebels have overturned a duly elected government and there is no logic behind the explanation” that the government reneged on the agreement, Erastus Mwencha, deputy chairman of the African Union, said in an interview today in Luanda, the Angolan capital. “We must return to constitutionality.”

Gazambeti declined to comment on the sanctions imposed by the African Union.

The Central African Republic has been plagued by violence since independence from France in 1960. At least four battles for Bangui took place from 1996 until 2003, when Bozize toppled predecessor Ange-Felix Patasse, whom he served as army chief. Seleka began its rebellion in December after accusing Bozize of failing to honor a 2008 peace accord. An agreement signed in Libreville in January ended the fighting and created the unity government.

U.S. Response

In Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said today that the U.S. was reviewing its non-humanitarian aid to the country, totaling less than $2 million, and called the military’s takeover an “illegal seizure of power.”

Both the rebels and the ousted government had failed to carry out the Libreville accord, Ventrell said.

The latest events in the country show that much of Africa’s peace and security structure is “not yet fit for purpose,” Alex Vines, head of the Africa Program at Chatham House in London, said in an e-mail.

The Economic Community of Central African States proved “impotent” after failing to halt Seleka’s advance on the capital, while former colonial ruler France failed to intervene, only sending troops to support its nationals living in the country, he said.

South Africans

In addition, at least 13 South African soldiers, who have been in the country since 2007, were killed in the battle for Bangui. The South African troops were in Central African Republic to provide training, Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said today. Seleka had demanded that Bozize order the soldiers to withdraw before they ended their cease-fire.

“South Africa, once again, has blundered, as it did in 2010 and 2011 over Cote d’Ivoire when the post-election crisis there forced Pretoria to re-evaluate,” Vines said.

Pangea Diamondfields Inc., an Isle of Man-based exploration company, owns a concession in Central African Republic 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 country by at least a year because of the rebellion. Areva SA, a French developer of nuclear reactors, started removing employees from its Bakouma uranium mine in the Central African Republic after an attack last year.

The country has a gross domestic product of about $3.6 billion and earns most of its foreign currency from timber and diamond exports, according to the CIA World Factbook.