Several powerful armed groups in the Central African Republic have accused President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s government of seeking to fix upcoming elections and warned of a violent response.
The warning stokes tensions in the troubled country ahead of the December 27 presidential and legislative vote.
It came in a communique issued late Thursday by militias who had joined a February 2019 peace accord between Touadera and armed groups which control most of the country.
The statement lashed the agreement as a “patent failure.”
The signatories, it said, vowed to “restore security across the national territory… by any means” if the government “insists on manipulating the organizing of the vote in order to carry out an electoral holdup.”
Three of the six groups confirmed early Friday that they had signed the statement, while a fourth denied it.
Touadera is seeking a second term in the ballot, which is a crucial test for one of Africa’s most volatile countries.
The country spiraled into conflict in 2013, when the then-president, Francoise Bozize, was ousted by the Seleka, a rebel coalition drawn largely from the Muslim minority.
The coup triggered a bloodbath between the Seleka and so-called “anti-Balaka” self-defense forces, mainly Christian and animist.
France intervened militarily in its former colony and after a transitional period, elections were staged in 2016 and won by Touadera.
Inter-communal fighting has receded in intensity in the last two years, but militia groups hold sway over two-thirds of the country, often fighting over resources.
The groups who confirmed their signature on Friday were the Patriotic Movement for Central Africa (MPC), the 3R and the Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central Africa.
Touadera, 63, is front runner in the 17-strong field for the presidency, but much uncertainty has been stoked by the return of Bozize.
He slipped back into the country in December 2019 after years in exile and is being accused by the government of trying to undermine the country.
Bozize, 74, retains a large following in the northwest, especially among the Gbaya ethnic group, the country’s largest, and has many supporters in the army.
Judicial sources say that several candidates for the governing MCU party have been attacked by armed men and others have been carjacked.
Bozize’s presidential bid was barred by the country’s top court on December 3 as he had been sought in a 2014 international arrest warrant filed by the CAR on charges including murder, arbitrary arrest and torture.
Bozize says he accepts the court’s decision and has since thrown his weight behind former Prime Minister Anicet-Georges Dologuele.
On Wednesday, the UN mission in the CAR, which has 11,500 peacekeeping troops, called on armed groups to stop attacking candidates and urged Bozize to “work sincerely for a genuine restoration of peace… rather than forge alliances with the leaders of armed groups to destabilize the country.”
Hans de Marie Heungoup, a researcher at the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank, said that any violent flareup was likely to be held after the results are announced in early January, rather than before.