Rwanda bolsters force in CAR as rebels 'held back'
CAR President Faustin Archange Touadéra was seen at an election rally accompanied by the Presidential Guard and the Rwandan UN peacekeeping force
Rwanda sent a so-called "protection force" to the Central African Republic after its peacekeepers there were attacked by rebels who advanced into the capital, Bangui.
The Rwandan and CAR governments have accused ex-President François Bozizé of supporting the rebels and planning a coup, which he rejected.
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UN peacekeeping forces said the rebel advance has been halted.
Mr Bozizé was excluded from a presidential election due on Sunday.
Russia has also sent "several hundred soldiers and heavy weapons" to the country to support the government, the AFP news agency quoted a government spokesman for the Central African Republic.
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The spokesman, Ange Maxime Kazagui, said the Russian armed forces had been invited under bilateral agreements, reports AFP.
The Russian government has not confirmed these reports.
"The Rwandans have also sent several hundred men who are there and have started fighting," added Kazagui.
The number of additional Rwandan soldiers deployed was not disclosed, but the Defense Ministry said the operation was conducted "under existing bilateral agreements" with the Central African Republic.
At least 750 Rwandan soldiers and police officers were deployed under the UN peacekeeping force Minusca.
Former President François Bozizé was excluded from this month's elections
Minusca forces were also deployed outside Bangui "to block armed elements," AFP quoted a UN spokesman as saying.
President Faustin Archange Touadéra has insisted that the elections take place on Sunday. The presence of the army and UN peacekeeping forces means that the people have nothing to fear.
Opposition parties, including Mr Bozizé's, have, however, called for the vote to be postponed "until peace and security are restored".
Rebel groups have captured several cities near the capital of the Central African Republic, clashed with government forces and looted property, and the UN said its forces were working to prevent a blockade of Bangui.
Mr Bozizé's spokesman, Christian Guenebem, said: "We categorically deny that Bozizé is the origin of anything."
CAR key events. [2003 rebel leader and former army commander Francois Bozizé takes power], [2009 UN Security Council approves the creation of a UN peace office for the Central African Republic to combat ongoing insecurity], [2013 Bozizé flees into exile when the Seleka Rebel coalition quickly overran the country and takes control of the capital], [Referendum 2015 on constitutional changes in November, followed by the first round of the presidential elections], [Bozizé returns to CAR in 2019], Source: Source: BBC, Image: Man with Eggs
The Central African Republic is one of the poorest and most unstable countries in Africa, despite being rich in resources such as diamonds and uranium. The UN estimates that half the population is in need of humanitarian aid and that up to a fifth have been displaced.
On December 3, the Central African Republic's Constitutional Court ruled that an international arrest warrant and UN sanctions imposed on him for alleged assassinations, torture and other crimes during his rule mean that Mr. Bozizé failed to meet the requirement of "good morals" for candidates.
Who are the main actors in this crisis?
The Christ Bozizé came to power after a coup in 2003 and subsequently won two elections that were widely viewed as fraudulent. He was ousted in 2013 by the Séléka - a rebel coalition largely made up of the Muslim minority - who accused him of breaking peace agreements.
The country has since come into conflict between the Séléka and the so-called "anti-balaka" defense forces, who are mainly Christian.
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After a military intervention by France, the country's former colonial ruler, elections were held in 2016, which were won by President Touadéra, who is currently seeking re-election.
But fighting between the militias continued and the United Nations has blamed rebel groups for the instability of the country.
Bozizé, 74, returned to the Central African Republic in December 2019 after living in exile in Benin, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo for six years.
He announced in July that he would run in the December 27 elections - a move that was seen as risky given the country's ongoing unrest, but not unexpected.
Mr Bozizé still has a large following, particularly in the army and among the country's largest ethnic group, the Gbaya.
However, he faces UN sanctions for allegedly supporting the "anti-balaka" groups in 2013. The Central African Republic authorities have also issued an arrest warrant against him for "crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide".
What's the threat now?
On Saturday, the top three rebel groups announced that they had formed an alliance called the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) and accused President Touadéra of attempting to rig the upcoming elections.
In a statement, the CPC "urged all other groups to join" and urged members to "diligently respect the integrity of the civilian population".
As the election campaign intensified, Facebook said last week it had identified rival disinformation campaigns to influence the vote - led by people with ties to the French military and prominent Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Moscow has maintained close relations with the Central African Republic in recent years. Russian military advisors are currently stationed in the country to train government forces.
Reports from UN investigators, the US military and journalists have also documented the activities of the Wagner Group, a private military company allegedly owned by Mr. Prigozhin.
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