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Pre-Election Violence in CAR Sends Hundreds Fleeing to Cameroon

FILE - A vehicle carrying the president of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadera, arrives at a stadium for an election rally, in Bangui, Dec. 19, 2020.
FILE - A vehicle carrying the president of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadera, arrives at a stadium for an election rally, in Bangui, Dec. 19, 2020.

GAROUA BOULAY, CAMEROON — Cameroon says hundreds of Central African Republic (CAR) civilians have fled across the border in the past few days to escape election-related violence. Bangui is holding elections later this month and those fleeing into Cameroon say sporadic clashes are already breaking out.

Local residents say Garoua Boulay’s public square in the past four days has seeing an unusual influx of civilians from neighboring CAR.

Gregoire Mvongo, the governor of Cameroon’s East region which includes Garoua Boulay, says about a thousand people have crossed over into Cameroon since Friday to escape violence in the lead-up to the December 27 poll.

Mvongo said the situation in the CAR is very troubling. He said he traveled to Garoua Boulay Sunday and ordered the military to porous border areas to limit the spill-over into Cameroon from the new wave of fighting.

Among those who fled the CAR is 32-year-old agricultural engineer Jean Paul Nambobona. He says he trekked with his wife and two children through the bush before finding transport to Garua Boulay. He said on the road they saw many people struggling to leave the CAR. He added that he wanted former president Francois Bozize to remember that the CAR has gone through very difficult moments and its civilians want a return to peace.

On Saturday, the CAR government accused Bozize of organizing a rebel alliance to attack the capital, Bangui, a week before the election.

Bangui said U.N. peacekeepers dispersed armed rebels loyal to Bozize who were occupying areas near the capital.

Bozize, whose candidacy for the presidential election was rejected, denied he organized any rebel attack. His opposition coalition on Sunday demanded the election be postponed due to the violence, but the government insisted the vote will go ahead.

Speaking on Radio RCA, self-declared youth leader Rigobert Ngaissio said that young people should not listen to rebels who call for taking up arms against the state.

He said he is calling on all Central Africans, especially the youth, to be vigilant and patriotic because the threats to stability are real and serious. Ngaissio said it is imperative for everyone to contribute to stability in the Central African Republic.

A government spokesman on Monday confirmed reports that Russia and Rwanda had each sent several hundred troops to the country.

Rwanda on Sunday said its troops were dispatched in response to rebels supported by Bozize targeting its peacekeeping forces.

Russia has been supplying the Central African Republic with arms and security contractors.

CAR descended into violence in 2013 when Bozize was ousted by the Séléka, a rebel coalition from the Muslim minority, which accused him of breaking peace deals.

But Bozize maintains a large following, especially in the army and among the country's largest ethnic group, the Gbaya.

The December 27 election is seen as an important step in bringing stability to the CAR.

In the past seven years of fighting, close to a million Central Africans have fled to neighboring Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.

Some information for this report came from AFP.