Government soldiers in the Central African Republic (CAR) battled to recapture a rebel-held city on Friday, a military official said, despite regional efforts to seek a peaceful end to the growing crisis.
The military official said the fighting in Bambari, which rebels from the Seleka coalition seized last Sunday, was “especially violent,” and a humanitarian source said witnesses about 60km away could hear detonations and heavy weapons fire for several hours.
The new violence came the same day as the Central African Republic’s neighbors took steps to tackle the crisis in the chronically unstable nation, where rebels have advanced towards the capital Bangui, stoking local and international alarm.
Foreign ministers in the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) announced late on Friday that more troops of the Central African Multinational Force (FOMAC) would be sent to the country.
“Five-hundred-and-sixty men are already on the ground, and we agreed to a request by the ECCAS general secretariat to increase their numbers and allow them to accomplish their mission as a rapid deployment force,” as Seleka rebels threaten the capital, Chadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Moussa Faki Mahamat said after a meeting in the Gabonese capital, Libreville, which is seen as a potential venue for peace talks.
The international force is “to deploy so Bangui and all cities that have not been captured [by the rebels] so far cannot be targeted by the rebels,” Gabonese Foreign Minister Emmanuel Issoze Ngondet added.
ECCAS deputy secretary-general Guy-Pierre Garcia said earlier that the rebels and the Central African government had agreed to unconditional talks.
“The goal is to get to negotiations [between the government and the rebels] by Jan. 10,” a source in the Central African Multinational Force said.
Central African Republic President Francois Bozize’s appeals for help from former colonial power France and from the US have fallen on deaf ears.
The French defense ministry said late on Friday that 150 troops had arrived in Bangui from Libreville as a “precautionary measure” to protect French and European nationals.