Russia, Rwanda deploy troops to CAR amid pre-election tensions

The Central African Republic (CAR) has declared that Russia and Rwanda have deployed hundreds of troops to the nation following an alleged military coup plot ahead of this week’s key presidential and legislative elections.

“Russia has sent several hundred soldiers and heavy weapons” within the framework of a bilateral cooperation agreement, CAR’s government spokesman Ange Maxime Kazagui announced on Monday, adding, “The Rwandans have also sent several hundred men who are on the ground and have started fighting,”

A number of planes from Russia, an ally of CAR’s President Faustin-Archange Touadera, landed in the country over the weekend, Reuters reported Monday, citing unidentified sources.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has not yet commented on whether Moscow dispatched planes to the country. It had previously sent arms and security contractors to CAR.

Russia vows support for CAR president, poll security

The Russian ministry announced in a Saturday statement that its representative had held talks with CAR’s foreign minister by phone to reaffirm Russian support for the impoverished nation and its government’s efforts to guarantee election security.

Touadera, who is seeking re-election, has struggled to maintain stability in the divided country.

The government alleged an attempted coup after three of the powerful armed groups that control most of CAR’s territory began advancing towards the capital along main roads, a week before elections scheduled for December 27.

CAR’s government spokesman insisted that the elections will be held as scheduled.

“There is no plan B. The elections will take place on December 27,” he added.

Earlier on Sunday, the Coalition of the Democratic Opposition (COD-2020) demanded the postponement of the vote “until the re-establishment of peace and security.”

Uniting the key parties and movements opposed to Touadera, COD-2020 was until recently led by former president Francois Bozize, whom the government insisted Saturday was leading the rebel force amassing not far from the capital.

UN force says rebel groups repelled

On Sunday, a spokesman for the United Nations peacekeeping forces (MINUSCA) said the rebel forces advancing on CAR’s capital of Bangui had been repelled and the situation was “under control.”

Vladimir Monteiro stated that “the armed groups have left the town” of Yaloke, on one of the routes towards Bangui, and that they had also retreated from two other areas.

MINUSCA “sent blue helmets to Mbaiki, where there were clashes on Saturday… to block the armed groups,” Monteiro added, saying “the situation is under control.”

But security and humanitarian sources were cited by AFP as emphasizing that parts of the armed groups were still on the ground around Bossembele — nearly 150 kilometers from Bangui.

The government said on Saturday that Bozize was at Bossembele with militants from three rebel groups which had formed an alliance — the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC).

Bozize denies coup plot

Bozize’s KNK party, however, denied that the former leader wanted to carry out a coup, with its spokesman Christian Guenebem saying, “We categorically deny that Bozize is at the origin of anything.”

“The government has always wanted to undermine the physical and political integrity of Bozize,” he added.

Bozize, back after years in exile, has been barred from running in the polls by the coup-prone country’s top court. The country had issued an international arrest warrant against him on charges including murder, arbitrary arrest and torture.

The 74-year-old, who came to power in a coup in 2003 before himself being overthrown in 2013, said he accepted the court’s decision.

Meanwhile, in a joint statement, a group known as the G5+ — France, Russia, the US, the EU and the World Bank — urged Bozize and allied armed groups to lay down their weapons, calling for the polls to open as scheduled.

The CAR spiraled into conflict when Bozize, a Christian, was ousted as president by the Seleka, a rebel coalition drawn largely from the Muslim minority.

That coup triggered a bloodbath between the Seleka and the so-called “anti-Balaka” forces, who are mainly Christian and animist.

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