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CAR Minister Says Rebels Edging Closer to Capital

Central African soldiers patrol a street in Bangui, Central African Republic, January 7, 2013.
A Central African Republic official said rebels are edging closer to the capital and a so-called red line set up by an African multi-national force.

VOA correspondent Anne Look, who is in the CAR capital of Bangui, spoke Monday to the minister for territorial administration, Josue Binoua. She reported that according to the minister, rebel fighters are now only 12 kilometers from Damara, a town north of Bangui where several hundred African troops are stationed to prevent a rebel advance.

Look said tension is growing in the capital.

"I definitely see more gendarmes, more truckloads of gendarmes circulating around the city today," she said. "And talking to residents, most of the people quoted to me that the government is now saying '12 kilometers from Damara, 12 kilometers from Damara.' There is a lot more concern that the rebels are closing in."

Look noted that many details about the rebel force remain unclear, including the number of fighters approaching Damara and how well armed they are.

Central African nations and the U.N. Security Council have called on the rebels to halt their advance. The rebel coalition known as Seleka has seized about a dozen communities since launching an offensive December 10.

Rebel leaders are expected to begin peace talks with CAR government officials and opposition leaders in Gabon on Tuesday.

Seleka unites fighters from as many as four insurgent groups in the north who say the government did not live up to 2007 and 2008 peace accords. The coalition is demanding President Francois Bozize step down.

Bozize said he is willing to form a coalition government but will finish out his second elected term, which ends in 2016.