Rebels push closer to Central African Republic capital

BANGUI, Central African Republic — Rebels in Central African Republic pushed closer to the capital, Bangui, on Saturday, taking control of more towns and cutting some power to the capital, as the military pushed back with aerial strikes, an official said.

An air attack on rebel positions along two main roads from the town of Damara halted the groups known as Seleka, leaving one civilian dead and six soldiers wounded, said Jean-Pierre Sadou, a spokesman for the Central African Republic military. He said soldiers remain on high alert in Bangui.

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The rebels took control of the town of Bossembele early Saturday, military spokesman Lt. Evrard Tekremoyen said, after they had seized Damara on Friday, crossing the boundary line drawn by regional forces in January, when the same rebel group threatened to take the capital if their demands were not met.

After fighting in Bossembele, rebels drove to the neighboring town of Boali and took control of three power plants that serve the town and the capital, residents said. The rebels then cut off the electrical grid, plunging some of Bangui into darkness, Elisabeth Kofio, director of Central African Republic Energy, said on the radio.

Later Saturday, non-essential U.N. personnel were taking a bus to the airport. On the way they were stopped by a group of youths, who demanded they stay, said U.N. employee Debonheur Deotar.

“No one leaves this country. You will stay here. If we die, we all die together,” the youths shouted, Deotar said.

Central African Republic, a nation of 4.5 million at the heart of the African continent, remains one of the world’s poorest countries. It has weathered repeated coups and rebel invasions.

On Thursday, rebels had dismissed President Francois Bozize’s offer to release some political prisoners, saying their fighters would still consider retaking up arms despite signing a peace agreement two months ago. They had threatened months ago to advance on the capital if Bozize did not step aside. The crisis prompted Chad, Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Gabon to send soldiers to the Central African Republic.

The rebels are seeking the integration of some 2,000 rebel forces into the national army and the departure of South African forces on assignment in the country.

— Associated Press

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