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Wednesday 3 September  

Seleka, Central Africa's motley rebel coalition

Published on 1 January 2013 - 5:16pm
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In a matter of weeks, fighters from the Central African Republic's Seleka rebel coalition took over large swathes of the impoverished equatorial country. Closing in on the capital Bangui, the rebels have called on President Francois Bozize to stand down.

THE ORIGIN AND MAKEUP OF A MOTLEY MOVEMENT

The rebel groups in the coalition -- Seleka means "alliance" in the country's Sango language -- were signatories to the 2008 Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the government.

Since September, however, dissident factions of the main signatory rebel groups have banded together as Seleka.

The alliance is made up of factions of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity, the Wa Kodro Salute Patriotic Convention and the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace.

While the exact make up of the rebellion is unclear, two figures are known. One is the president, Michel Djotodia. The other, its spokesman and international coordinator Eric Neris Massi, is the son of Charles Massi, a former minister in Bozize's administration who later opposed it and has been missing and presumed dead since 2010.

The fighters of these groups are ex-mutineers and former militiamen from earlier rebel movements hailing mainly from the north in the chronically unstable country.

Seleka numbers between 1,000 and 2,000 fighters, according to Roland Marchal, a specialist of Central African conflicts at the Paris-based National Centre for Scientific Research.

The Central African army has at most 3,500 men.

DEMANDS

The Seleka rebels say the government has not honoured peace accords signed between 2007 and 2011 that offered financial support and other help for insurgents who laid down their arms.

As they advance on the ground, they now demand that Bozize to step down, voicing scepticism over his promised concessions.

A RAPID CONQUEST

Ill-equipped, unmotivated and poorly trained, the Central African army offered little resistance to the Seleka fighters.

Given the few cases of looting in the captured cities, it appears the group has enough funds to pay its fighters.

"The funding sources are worrisome. They are the same ones that funded the rebellions from Libya to Tunisia to Mali," Territorial Administration Minister Jose Binoua said, implying that other countries like Chad are involved.

Some observers believe that even if the rebellion is mostly made up of former Central African rebels, it also includes "former members of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), as well as Chadian, Sudanese and Nigerian mercenaries" -- claims the rebels deny.

According to Marchal, "given the rebellion's origins in the north, we can assume there are many Muslims in their ranks."

The question of the fighters' nationalities comes up, but Marchal stresses that in this region "people come and go between borders that almost don't exist."

The presence of foreign fighters does not necessarily imply the involvement of their governments in the rebellion, he said.

CHAD'S ROLE

A close ally of Bozize, Chad helped bring him to power in 2003 and to rid the north of rebel movements in late 2010.

Since the latest fighting began, Chad has played the mediator by hosting a summit of the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC).

The neighbouring country also sent peacekeeping troops into the Central African Republic. Yet the Chadian force -- whose size and power is unknown -- has yet to push back against the advancing rebels, fueling rumours that Bozize has been dropped by his old ally, Chadian President Idriss Deby.

© ANP/AFP
  • Eric Massi, international coordinator and spokesman for Seleka, a coalition ...
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