Looters and gunmen roamed the streets of Central African Republic’s capital Bangui on Tuesday as rebels and regional peacekeepers struggled to restore order two days after a coup plunged the mineral-rich country into chaos.
The ousting of President Francois Bozize and the political turmoil around it has raised fears of a humanitarian crisis in the former French colony - and embarrassed regional power South Africa which had sent troops to defend the government.
About 5,000 Seleka rebel fighters poured into the capital on Sunday, brushing aside a 400-strong South African force which attempted to block their path. At least 13 South African soldiers were killed and 27 wounded.
Rebel leader and self-proclaimed president Michel Djotodia - who had accused Bozize of breaking past peace accords - on Monday asked regional peacekeepers stationed in the country to help him restore order.
Rebels in Central African Republic seized the riverside capital Bangui in fierce fighting on Sunday, forcing President Francois Bozize to flee and sowing confusion over who ruled the mineral-rich heart of Africa.
At least nine South African soldiers were killed trying to prevent the rebels taking Bangui, a Reuters witness said, dealing a blow to Pretoria’s attempt to stabilize the chaotic central African nation and assert its influence in the region.
The Seleka rebel coalition resumed hostilities on Thursday in the former French colony and quickly swept south to Bangui with the aim of ousting Bozize, whom it accused of breaking a January peace deal to integrate its fighters into the army.
“We have taken the presidential palace,” Eric Massi, a Seleka spokesman, told Reuters by telephone early on Sunday.
Government officials confirmed the rebels had captured the city of more than 600,000 people, which lies on the banks of the Oubangi river bordering Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Damascus, you can smell the scent of gunpowder that wafts in from shelling on the outskirts of the capital. You hear fighter jets buzzing above. Ambulance sirens wail throughout the day, and death notices are regularly plastered on city walls.
Damascus is not under direct bombardment, like many other places in Syria that have been ravaged by an uprising now two years old. But the war is creeping closer, and residents feel the heat.
On the government side, pressure continues to build and there’s a sense the regime is becoming more desperate as the rebels makes gains, particularly in the north of the country.
The rebels, meanwhile, have attacked Damascus with no apparent regard for civilians. Many rebels view Damascus residents as indifferent city folks who have not joined the uprising and have opted to quietly support, or at least tolerate, the Assad regime.
A defiant President Bashar al-Assad called on Sunday for national mobilization in a “war to defend the nation”, describing rebels fighting him as terrorists and agents of foreign powers with whom it was impossible to negotiate.
Appearing in an opera house in central Damascus packed with cheering supporters, the Syrian leader delivered his first speech to an audience since June last year, and his first public comments since a television interview in November.
He unveiled what he described as a peace initiative to end the 21-month-old uprising. But the proposal, including a reconciliation conference that would exclude “those who have betrayed Syria”, was certain to be rejected by enemies who have already said they will not negotiate unless he leaves power.
He spoke confidently for about an hour before a crowd of cheering loyalists, who occasionally interrupted him to shout and applaud, at one point raising their fists and chanting: “With blood and soul we sacrifice for you, O Bashar!”
Some 2,000 people rallied in Libya’s second city Benghazi on Friday to demand that militias made up of former rebels who helped oust dictator Moamer Kadhafi disband and join the army or police.
“Our demands are: dissolve all militias and make their members individually enter the army or police force,” activist and law student Bilal Bettamer said.
“And we want all pro-Kadhafi and Kadhafi-era criminals to be removed from the police and army. We want to end this stalemate between the army and militias,” he added.
Former rebels who have refused to join the security forces insist that the authorities first purge them of remnants of the Kadhafi regime.
Helicopters and fighter jets flew over the “Benghazi will not die” rally, which came a week after the army deployed units in the city to bolster security.
Banners read: “We want a unified army,” and “no more assassinations.”
Benghazi has witnessed a series of attacks against police stations and assassinations targeting military officers.
It has also become a focus for jihadist groups, including militants who killed ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in a September 11 attack on the US consulate.
Central African Republic — A leader for the rebels seizing towns across Central African Republic said Wednesday that his fighters do not intend to advance on the capital and remain open to dialogue with the government.
The announcement comes as fear grows in Bangui, a city of about 600,000 people, that government forces could face off against rebels here.
While the rebels have taken hold of at least 10 towns, the closest one is still 385 kilometers (240 miles) away.
Rebel Col. Djouma Narkoyo said Wednesday that his forces have continued taking towns in recent days because government forces are attacking their positions.
“Our intention is not to take Bangui,” he said, when reached by phone. “We still remain open to dialogue.”
There is unease, though, in the capital of Bangui. Residents here say they’re skeptical about the claim the rebels don’t intend to try and seize this city.
“We are afraid by what we see happening in our country right now,” said Leon Modomale, a civil servant in the capital. “It’s as if the rebels are going to arrive in Bangui any moment now because there are too many contradictions in their language.”
Protesters gathered outside the French and U.S. embassies in Bangui on Wednesday, calling on the countries to help halt the rebel advance.
President Bashar Assad knows his regime can’t win Syria’s civil war — his foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, admitted as much in an interview published last week by a sympathetic newspaper. But nor does he believe he’s about to lose what the U.N. last week branded an “overtly sectarian” civil war in Syria. Instead, the regime appears to still believe it can fight its opponents to a draw — al-Sharaa called for dialogue and spoke of a compromise solution, but the regime continues to believe it can set favorable terms for a negotiated outcome. The secret weapon it hopes to use to halt the rebels’ recent momentum? In a word, winter.
First, in the literal sense: The onset of a season of bitter cold amid deprivation approaching starvation in some areas is already sapping civilian morale and spurring rising despair in rebel-held territory, and Sunday’s reports of an air strike on a bakery in a rebel held town affirms the impression that the regime may be systematically targeting bread supplies in those areas to deepen the humanitarian crisis.
“The greatest challenge facing the rebels is providing the basic necessities of life to Syrians living in areas no longer controlled by the state,” says Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. “That’s why the regime is trying its best to disrupt food supplies in rebel-held areas. It needs them to fail, even to starve while they’re living under rebel control. The regime can’t allow the rebels to establish a workable alternative that pays salaries and is able to provide for those in its domain in the way that the state currently serves as the key provider to many millions of Syrians.”
Published on Dec 17, 2012
euronews.com If pictures being broadcast on You tube are genuine, then they show rebels storming the
largest Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus.
The Free Syrian Army claims to have launched an operation inside the Yarmouk camp against a Palestinian pro-Assad group led by veteran militant Ahmed Jibril.
If proven, it will draw into the crisis most of Syria’s 500 000 Palestinian refugees who live in the camp on the southern edge of the capital.
Meanwhile, Syria’s Vice President has told a newspaper he believes neither side can prevail and
a process of conflict resolution is needed. Farouq al-Sharaa is the most prominent so far to say publicly that Assad will not win.
Meanwhile, parts of the city of Aleppo have been flattened by the fighting. Not much is left of the Karm al Jabal neighbourhood after days of fierce fighting. Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Haliki has pledged millions in reconstruction aid, according to state television.
A pan-Arab television station aired a video Sunday purporting to show Syrian rebels guarding a group of Iranians abducted a day earlier and promising more attacks on Iranian targets.
Armed men in the video identify themselves as members of the rebel “Baraa Brigades” and say that at least one of the 48 captives was an officer of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards. They claim the Iranians were on a “reconnaissance mission” in the capital Damascus at the time they were abducted. Iran says they are pilgrims who were visiting a shrine.
(CNN) — The Free Syrian Army plans to kick off “huge operations” this week against “vital interests” of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the force’s commander said Wednesday.
“We prepared ourselves for this stage,” Col. Riad al-Asaad told CNN in Turkey. “We can’t force him off with the peaceful demonstrations, so we are going to force him by arms to leave.”
The anti-government resistance movement, which emerged over the summer, comprises defectors from the massive and better-equipped Syrian army. The fledgling force is flexing its muscles amid international fears of a civil war that would destabilize both Syria and the greater Middle East.
But during the Arab League’s monitoring mission in Syria, it suspended all but defensive actions against the regime, hoping the league could make progress toward establishing peace.
The league’s fact-finding mission has been determining whether the Syrian government is abiding by a peace agreement to end the regime’s 10-month-long crackdown against protests. But al-Asaad called the Arab League mission a “mockery,” with “no teeth” and no pull. Security forces shot at people Tuesday in front of Arab League observers “who did not do anything about it.”
“We don’t believe in the Arab League mission in Syria. I think they are covering the regime and blocking any international intervention to help the Syrian people,” he said.
….”We are preparing for big operations and have no faith in Arab League monitors or their useless mission,” al-Asaad said.