Central African Republic (CAR) rebels captured two more towns on Friday night, just days before talks were due to open on the crisis in the impoverished country, an official said on Saturday.
“The rebels took two towns near Bambari,” a town already under the control of the Seleka rebel coalition, Central African Territorial Minister of Administration Josue Binoua told reporters.
“This shows their intent to wage war even during negotiations,” he added.
There was no immediate reaction from the rebels to the claim.
The comments came just days before central African regional bloc, the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC), hopes to start hosting talks between the rebels and Central African Republic President Francois Bozize in an effort to solve the nearly month-long crisis in the mineral-rich, but unstable, country.
The rebels threw those plans into doubt on Friday when they contradicted claims by CEEAC officials that they had agreed to the talks due to begin tomorrow in Gabon’s capital, Libreville, saying they had not been informed of the initiative by the regional bloc.
On Saturday, Binoua said the talks, which have the support of the UN Security Council and the US, would proceed as planned.
“There will be three delegations of 15 members each — the government, rebels and opposition,” he said.
Bozize is to head the government delegation, while the opposition delegation is to be headed by lawyer Nicolas Tiangaye, Binoua added.
The rebels, who say that Bozize has not abided by terms of earlier peace deals, launched an offensive on Dec. 10 in the north of the country and easily overran an ill-equipped and poorly trained Central African Republic army, marching across a large part of the country before halting their push within striking distance of the capital, Bangui, in the southwest.
Rebel troops were stationed at Sibut, about 160km from the capital.
Also on Saturday, the organizer of youth groups who have been manning roadblocks at night in Bangui said they would be largely replaced by CEEAC “vigilance committees.”
The youth groups, known as Kokora [blood arrow], have come under criticism from the opposition and Bangui residents who say they increase rather than ease insecurity in the capital.
Kokora coordinator Levy Yakete said the CEEAC force would patrol the city’s main arteries to enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew.
Kokora will continue to operate in the suburbs, he said, dismissing accusations that some of the youths were involved in extortion and were armed with machetes.
“We are fortunate to be prepared” if the rebels enter the city, Yakete said.
Unrest in the landlocked equatorial country has alarmed the country’s neighbors and the international community, with the UN Security Council twice calling on Seleka to halt its offensive and engage in peace talks.
Binoua on Saturday charged that the seizure of two more towns was “screaming proof” that the rebels could not be trusted.