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Central African opposition slams French intervention

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Dec 6, 2006 (BANGUI) — The Central African Republic’s main opposition coalition has condemned France’s military intervention against rebels in the northeast of its impoverished and unstable former colony.

Over the weekend government troops, backed by the French, recaptured the towns of Sam Ouandja and Ndele, 500 kilometres (310 miles) northeast of the CAR capital Bangui, according to the military. The rebels only hold one major town, Ouadda Djalle, around 800 kilometres northeast of Bangui.

The French intervention, part of an offensive launched in late November, appears to have paid a key role in driving the rebels back, with their leader saying they had pulled back because they could not defend themselves against bombing by French Mirage F1 fighters.

The French military has confirmed that Mirage fighters have opened fire on several occasions on the rebels, at first in "legitimate defense" and then in support of the CAR army. It has also deployed a special forces unit on the ground and is assisting in air transport.

The CAR army is also being assisted by troops deployed by the Economic and Monetary Union of Central Africa (CEMAC) under Gabonese leadership.

But in a statement received on Wednesday, the CAR opposition Union of Active Forces of the Nation (UFVN) expressed its "surprise and indignation to see France engage directly in military confrontation with the Central African rebellion."

It condemned "without reservation the massacres of civilian populations" caused by the French bombing, without giving details of such deaths, and said that peaceful means were "by far the best ways to resolve all political conflicts."

The UFVN includes the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People (MLPC) of former president Ange-Felix Patasse, who was ousted in 2003 and went into exile in Togo and is accused by the government of supporting the rebels.

Both the CAR and neighbouring Chad have been rocked by violence spilling over the border from Sudan’s Darfur region in recent weeks.

The UN Security Council last month expressed "serious concern" about the growing instability along the border areas of the three countries, which has seen hundreds of thousands of refugees flee their homes.

Patasse’s successor, Francois Bozize, has accused Sudan of supporting rebel movements — an accusation echoed by Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno — although Khartoum denies the charges.

The French military is also providing military assistance to the Chadian government although Paris insists it is providing only "logistical support to the Chadian national army."

(AFP)

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