C.A.R retakes rebel stronghold

CENTRAL African Republic’s army, backed by Russian and Rwandan allies, regained control yesterday of the rebel stronghold of Bossangoa, extending a series of victories over an insurgency that had recently overrun the town, the government said.

A surge in violence linked to a disputed December 27 presidential election has forced more than 200,000 civilians to flee their homes, stalled flows of food and driven up prices for basic goods.

Rebels aligned with former president Francois Bozize seized Bossangoa, his hometown 260 km (160 miles) northwest of the capital Bangui, and several other towns after the constitutional court barred his candidacy in December.

The court cited an arrest warrant and U.N. sanctions against him for allegedly inciting violence. Bozize, who was ousted in a 2013 rebellion, denies the accusations against him.

The rebels attacked Bangui on Jan. 13 but were repelled by the army and U.N. peacekeepers, and they have steadily lost ground to government forces since then. Troops dispatched by allies Russia and Rwanda have participated in the government counter-offensive.

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On Feb. 8 a humanitarian aid convoy reached Bangui, the first since attacks by the rebels, known as the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), blocked the 580-km (360-mile) route from Cameroon in January.

“Our objective is to liberate what was taken, bridge by bridge, town by town,” government spokesman Maxime Kazagui told Reuters.

Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada shared pictures of soldiers posing in front of a concrete road sign for Bossangoa on Facebook.

The gold- and diamond-rich country of nearly 5 million people has failed to find stability since the 2013 rebellion. Nearly half of the national territory is occupied by armed groups, the United Nations said last month.

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