Central African Armed Forces soldiers stand at attention on a road between Boali and Bangui on January 10 [File: Florent Vergnes/AFP]
Rebel forces in the Central African Republic on Wednesday launched two attacks on the outskirts of the capital Bangui that were pushed back, officials said.
A witness in Bangui heard explosions and later saw helicopters circling over the city, Reuters news agency reported. The situation appeared calm in north Bangui as of 0800 GMT, the witness said.
“The attackers who came in large numbers to take Bangui have been vigorously pushed back,” Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada said in a post on Facebook, urging citizens to remain calm.
The simultaneous dawn assaults on army units were the first close to the capital since President Faustin Archange Touadera was re-elected in a December ballot.
“We heard gunfire from 6am this morning. We’re staying home – there’s panic. We’re scared of stray bullets,” said north Bangui resident Rodrigue, who only wanted to be identified by his first name.
The assault represents a marked escalation in fighting with rebel groups that erupted around a disputed December 27 election. The groups attacked towns close to Bangui last month but did not reach the capital as intended.
A coalition of armed rebel groups – accused of an attempted coup after their offensive to disrupt the vote – have pledged to march on Bangui.
Wednesday’s dawn attacks, 9km (5.5 miles) and 12km (7.5 miles) from the capital, targeted two army brigades but the rebel forces were repelled, Interior Minister Henri Wanzet Linguissara told AFP news agency.
The attacks were the latest since the alliance of CAR’s six most powerful rebel groups who control two-thirds of the country launched an offensive to prevent Touadera’s re-election.
He won the vote and was declared the winner on January 4.
The rebels have since carried out sporadic attacks mostly in towns far from the capital that were repelled by UN peacekeepers and Central African troops, along with Rwandan soldiers and Russian paramilitaries sent to help.
Central African Republic Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada meets troops on January 10 [File: Florent Vergnes/AFP]CAR prosecutors have launched an investigation into former President Francois Bozize, whom the government accuses of plotting a coup with the help of armed groups.
Bozize, who denies the allegations, came to power in a coup in 2003 before being overthrown in 2013, after which the country slid into sectarian conflict.
The violence has forced more than 30,000 people to flee to neighbouring countries, according to the UN refugee agency.