C.Africa rebel groups declare ceasefire ahead of vote

A statement issued by the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), which began an offensive against the government last Friday, said a "72-hour unilateral ceasefire... will be observed across the country by all patriots' fighting troops."

FILE: President of the Central African Republic Faustin Archange Touadéra. Picture: United Nations Photo.

BANGUI - A rebel coalition that has been fighting the government in Central African Republic said it would observe a unilateral ceasefire ahead of coming elections.

A statement issued by the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), which began an offensive against the government last Friday, said a "72-hour unilateral ceasefire... will be observed across the country by all patriots' fighting troops."

The statement, which was dated Wednesday, was confirmed to AFP on Thursday as authentic by two of the six groups in the CPC.

The CPC's creation was announced on December 19 by armed groups who accused President Faustin Archange Touadera, who is seeking a second term, of trying to fix the December 27 elections.

Its components are some of the armed groups that control most of the territory in the impoverished country.

At the weekend, the government accused Touadera's ousted predecessor, Francois Bozize, of scheming with the militias and of trying to carry out a coup.

Armed groups sought to advance down the main highways towards Bangui, but were stopped, according to the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA.

Clashes that had flared in several areas had halted on Thursday, NGOs and the UN said.

Sunday's presidential and legislative elections are deemed a key test of the strife-torn country's ability to recover stability.

The CPC statement was confirmed by two armed groups - the 3R and the Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central Africa (FPRC).

The communique called on the government to "also observe a ceasefire over the same period" and urged Touadera - the frontrunner in the vote - to "suspend the elections, whose conditions for sound organisation have never been good."

Government spokesman Ange-Maxime Kazagui dismissed the document, which he said was "unsigned."

"It's a unilateral ceasefire, a non-event, and we haven't seen these people stop what they're doing," he told AFP.

Mineral-rich but rated the world's second-poorest country under the Human Development Index, the CAR has been chronically unstable since independence 60 years ago.

A civil war erupted in March 2013 when mostly Muslim rebels in a coalition called Seleka stormed the capital and removed Bozize, a Christian and former general who had seized power a decade earlier.

Other groups, notably Christians and animists, then organised their own militias, prompting fears of a genocide along sectarian lines.

France sent in some 2,000 soldiers under a UN mandate.

In 2014, the UN sent its own mission, MINUSCA, and in 2016 elections were held, won by Touadera, a technocrat educated in France and Cameroon.

Since 2013, thousands of people have died and more than a quarter of the population of 4.9 million have fled their homes.

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