CAR pleads with fleeing civilians to return after rebels attack villages

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — Central African Republic officials are pleading with civilians to go back to their villages, after up to 10,000 civilians were displaced this week by fighting between rebels and C.A.R. forces.  

Officials say a rebel group known as the Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation, or 3R, has relaunched hostilities in the central African nation. This week, military sources said 3R rebels attacked nearly 10 villages between the towns of Bocaranga and Bazoum in northeastern C.A.R., near the Cameroon border. 

The C.A.R. military says bodies of five government troops and six civilians have been found in villages since the attacks began Tuesday. The military says it is still searching for bodies and transporting injured civilians to hospitals for treatment. 

On Thursday, officials said several hundred troops and humanitarian workers were deployed to the villages to push back the rebels and protect civilians. 

Glwadys Siopathis led a delegation of humanitarian workers to villages affected by the fighting. She says about 10,000 civilians — including children — are hiding in the bush, and are hungry, thirsty and malnourished.

She says a majority are reluctant to return to their homes because they believe rebels have simply retreated and could again attack villages for supplies. 

The C.A.R. says that besides its troops, forces of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, or MINUSCA, have been deployed to protect civilians and their goods. 

Both forces say huge quantities of ammunition were seized and several rebels were either neutralized or captured, but did not give further details. The C.A.R is pleading with civilians to return to villages where they will be protected by government troops. 

Bruno Yapande, C.A.R.’s territorial administration minister, says the government of the Central African Republic has ordered its military to immediately seal border areas where rebels traditionally attempt to pass through when attacked by government troops.  

He says several border security checkpoints have been erected to sort out rebels who disguise themselves as cattle ranchers or infiltrate civilian communities to escape to neighboring countries. 

Yapande spoke Friday on C.A.R. state TV. He did not say which countries the rebels may be attempting to escape to, but the C.A.R. shares borders with Cameroon, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo and Chad. 

Last week, Cameroon and C.A.R. officials met in the C.A.R.’s capital, Bangui, and signed an agreement to jointly combat what they describe as increasing insecurity and criminality caused by armed gangs and rebels operating in towns and villages along their border. 

The C.A.R. says the 3R, formed in 2015, is one of several rebel groups in the central African state. 3R rebels claim that they protect Muslim cattle ranching populations from regular attacks by Christian anti-Balaka militias. 

C.A.R. officials say the rebel group has several hundred armed fighters who fight to control villages on the C.A.R. border and regularly escape to eastern villages in Cameroon when attacked by government forces. The C.A.R. accuses the rebel group of killing, maiming, raping, looting, and regularly displacing civilians from the villages. 

The Central African Republic descended into violence and political chaos in 2013 when Muslim-led Seleka rebels seized power and forced then-President Francois Bozize from office in the majority Christian nation. A Christian-dominated militia called the anti-Balaka fought back, with both the Seleka and anti-Balaka being accused of targeting and killing civilians. 

The U.N. says fighting in the C.A.R. has forced close to a million Central Africans to flee to neighboring countries, including Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Chad.

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