Leaders of the three main armed rebel groups occupying large areas of the Central African Republic announced a coalition Saturday, ahead of next week’s elections and as UN peacekeepers deployed in response to fresh attacks.
The move could further fuel tensions already on the rise in the troubled country ahead of a presidential and legislative vote on December 27, where the opposition fears massive electoral fraud.
The armed groups had decided “to combine all of our movements into a single entity, called the Coalition of Patriots for Change or CPC, under a unified command,” they wrote in the statement. The CPC invited “all other armed groups to join."
They also urged its members to “scrupulously respect the integrity of the civilian population” and to allow vehicles belonging to the United Nations and to humanitarian groups to circulate freely.
The UN mission in the CAR, Minusca, said on Friday that its blue helmet forces were on “maximum alert” to prevent armed groups from disrupting the elections.
According to UN and humanitarian sources on Friday, the rebel militia have secured control of key routes leading to the capital Bangui.
The CAR spiraled into conflict in 2013, when the then president, Francoise Bozize, was ousted by the Seleka, a rebel coalition drawn largely from the Muslim minority.
The coup triggered a bloodbath between the Seleka and so-called “anti-Balaka” self-defense forces, mainly Christian and animist.
France intervened militarily in its former colony and after a transitional period, elections were staged in 2016 and won by president Faustin-Archange Touadera.
Inter-communal fighting has receded in intensity in the last two years, but militia groups hold sway over two-thirds of the country, often fighting over resources.