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Central African rebels claim capture of third town

Nov 12, 2006 (BANGUI) — Rebels in Central African Republic claimed Sunday they captured a third town in the north of the country, steadily expanding their territory in the face of little resistance from government troops.

Rebels seized Sam-Ouandja on Saturday, rebel spokesman Abakar Saboune told The Associated Press.

Government spokesman Cyriaque Gonda denied the claim, but an army major in the capital confirmed rebels were in control of Sam-Ouandja, adding that "no action was taken to dislodge them." The major declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Rebels first captured Birao near the country’s borders with Chad and Sudan on Oct. 29 and then seized Ouadda-Djalle on Friday. Saboune said rebel fighters held all three towns and are planning next to take the nearby mining town of Bria.

Speaking from an undisclosed location, Saboune said some civilians had fled Sam-Ouandja despite a rebel appeal for people there to stay calm.

Saboune said his fighters had seized satellite telephones from local diamond mining companies in the area as a security precaution to prevent any communication with the capital, Bangui.

President Francois Bozize has accused Sudan of supporting the rebels, but Sudan has denied the claim.

The rebels say they took up arms to protest against alleged corruption within Bozize’s government. Bozize took power in 2003 after his rebels attacked the capital and ousted ex-President Ange-Felix Patasse, who now lives in exile in Togo. Bozize went on to win elections in May 2005.

Volatile Central African Republic, a nation of 3.6 million people, has suffered decades of army revolts, coups and rebellions since the nation gained independence from France in 1960.

(AP)