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Town in Central African Republic Occupied by Rebels

A rebel leader in the Central African Republic says about 1,000 rebels from a rival group have occupied a town near the border with Sudan. The men are reported to be part of a splinter organization within the Union of Democratic Forces Coalition, which controls the region and recently signed a peace accord with the government. Naomi Schwarz has more on the story from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Damane Zakaria, the main rebel leader in the northern portion of Central African Republic, told the Associated Press that nearly 1,000 armed men have occupied the town of Sam-Ouandjia.

The region, close to the border with Sudan, has had similar incidents in recent months, as the conflict in Sudan's troubled Darfur region spills over the border.

Alex Vines, director of the Africa Program at British-based think tank Chatham House, says such incidents, which have long been a problem in Chad, are becoming more common in CAR as well.

"It is exactly this reason which is why there is a proposal at the moment for the new mandate and structure for a new AU - U.N. hybrid force in Darfur to be very much more mobile and proactive in these border areas to try and avoid the spread of these problems," said Vines. "Because the Darfur problem is clearly becoming regional."

Khartoum accepted a U.N. support package of three thousand military personnel to help the beleaguered African Union peacekeeping force of about 7,000 troops who have been unable to quell the violence. The United Nations and the African Union want to eventually build a "hybrid" force that would include more than 20,000 troops. Khartoum has not agreed.

Details of the latest incident are still very vague, but it appears the armed men are members of a splinter group within Zakaria's rebel organization.

In April, Zakaria signed a peace deal with the government. The leader of the splinter group, Abacar Samone, split from Zakaria's group after the peace accord. But it is unclear what his role in this incident really is, because he is currently in prison in Benin.

The government has declined to comment.

Alex Vines says it is unlikely they will be able to intervene militarily.

"The government in Central African republic is very weak. It really does not have any presence in this area," he said. "It is contained to the south and particularly in the capital Bangui."

Vines says the French have provided assistance in the past, but with a new president in Paris, observers wonder whether France's engagement in this issue and others in Africa will change.

Conflict in Central African Republic has been ongoing for decades, as various factions have battled for control of the country through rebellions, military coups and army revolts.