The armed forces of the Central African Republic are regaining ground, supported by Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group and Rwandan troops. Although MINUSCA warned at the beginning of the year that the rebels of the Coalition of Patriots for Change controlled around half of the country, approximately 45%, successful advances have been made on the ground.
One of the main objectives that had been set in Bangui was the reopening of land links with Cameroon. The road that connects the Central African capital with the neighbouring country is the main route for the entry of supplies into the country, both imported and humanitarian aid, and also for the exit of goods exported by CAR. Since the beginning of hostilities with the rebels, the latter have been taking over several towns along this road, causing the closure of this route, which is key to commercially and economically suffocating Faustin Touadera's government.
Over the last few weeks, FACA troops, the Central African Armed Forces, have successively taken back control of these towns. They have always been militarily supported by Russian mercenaries present in the framework of the agreement between Bangui and Moscow, and by Rwandan soldiers sent by the neighbouring country after the rebel uprising. Thus, in the middle of the month, the Central African government announced the recovery of the towns of Boali, Bossembelé, Bossemptélé, Bouar, one of the most important towns in the east of the country, Yaloké, and finally Beloko, on the border with Cameroon.
After the reconquest of these towns, Bangui announced that it would reinforce its military positions there to avoid losing control of the road and to keep it open to commercial traffic. However, it is not known when the previous traffic will be restored, as the risk remains high, as the Central African Minister of Communication, Ange-Maxime Kazagui, pointed out.
Beyond the progress on this route, in recent days, Bangui also announced the fighting around the town of Bambari, where there is an important FACA military base and where the rebel presence had been strengthened in the surrounding area, cutting the route to the Central African town of Ippy. Minister Kazagui, in fact, announced after the successes on the Bangui-Beloko route, that the objective of the Central African troops was to advance towards Ippy.
In recent hours, moreover, the Central African Prime Minister, Firmin Ngrebada, also very active on his Facebook account regarding the progress of the country's troops, has pointed to the capture of Bossongoa, the stronghold of François Bozizé, former president of the country and instigator of the rebel uprising to dispute Touadera's electoral victory. The town of Bossangoa, in the west of the country and north of Bossembelé, one of the towns previously seized. Ngrebada indicated that the town was under control, and that the entire prefecture of Ouham, in which it is located, would soon be under control.
According to local sources, fighting between FACA and CPC rebels has been going on for two days in the town, forcing the CPC to finally withdraw north towards Markounda. In this town, on the border with Chad, it is believed that Bozizé, who is the subject of an international arrest warrant for crimes against humanity issued by the Central African justice system, could be in the area. It was for this reason that Bozizé was prevented from standing in the December elections after returning from exile, as his candidacy was annulled by the Central African Constitutional Court. This impediment caused several armed groups to rebel in the country, forming the aforementioned CPC, which is why Bangui has attributed to the former president a determining role in the situation that is now trying to be resolved in the country.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in the country is worsening as, in addition to the reactivation of the conflict, there is a lack of humanitarian aid. According to the United Nations, almost three million people are suffering from food shortages, more than half of the population. The first truckload of humanitarian aid arrived in Bangui on 8 February, and it is expected that the arrival of aid will continue in the coming weeks thanks to the opening of the trade route. At present, it is estimated that at least a thousand trucks with humanitarian aid are still blocked at the Cameroonian border. The number of Central African refugees has skyrocketed in the last three months, with the total number of displaced people now surpassing those who were displaced during the worst of the Sélékas/anti-Balaka conflict that plunged the country into massive civil war.
The FACA, with Russian and Rwandan support, is moving forward to regain control on the ground, while MINUSCA continues to ask the UN Security Council to increase the number of military troops by 2,750 and of police forces by another 1,000. Jean-Pierre Lacroix points out that the aim is not to further the military solution to the conflict, but rather to prevent the loss of control where control is maintained, as happened in late December and early January, when the CPC advanced rapidly throughout the territory.
In this complicated context, the country is called to the polls on 14 March, when the second round of the legislative elections is scheduled to take place. However, in many of the electoral districts it will be the first, since during the previous ballot many of the results were either invalidated by the Central African judiciary or could not be carried out due to the violence. The Central African Assembly must be constituted by the beginning of May, so the timeframe for the government is very limited.