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Renewed violence prompts concern in Central African Republic

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Michael Kooren/Reuters

(Read caption) Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former vice president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, speaks at the opening of his trial in The Hague November 22, 2010. Bemba, a Congolese warlord, is accused of letting his troops kill and rape hundreds during a coup attempt in the Central African Republic.

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The Central African Republic has, like its neighbor Chad, experienced serious rebellions and political instability in recent years. Via ReliefWeb, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre summarizes the last five years in CAR:

Armed conflict pitting government forces against various armed groups in northern areas of the Central African Republic (CAR) caused the internal displacement of more than 200,000 people between 2005 and 2008. Following the signing of peace and reconciliation agreements, their number fell to around 108,000, but since 2009 clashes between the army and a splinter rebel group, and attacks on civilians by the Lord’s Resistance Army have caused a new wave of displacement. As of November 2010, the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) was estimated at over 192,000.

Resurgent instability, this report continues, threatens two upcoming transitions: the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from Chad and CAR and CAR’s elections, scheduled for Jan. 23.

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It is easy to see why. Last month, the rebel movement Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP) captured Birao, a town in northern CAR. Yesterday Chadian troops retook the town on behalf of the government of CAR, but the rebellion still makes observers uneasy: UN forces handed Birao over to the government of CAR on Nov. 15 as part of their preparations to exit the country.

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Meanwhile, the elections could be in danger: “Rebel clashes and problems over funding in the former French colony have delayed elections three times already, leaving [President Francois] Bozize in power beyond his initial mandate which ended in June.” The CPJP is actively attempting to derail the elections by detaining electoral workers. Other rebel groups are also hindering the elections directly through interference with logistical preparations, or indirectly through acts of violence.

What happens in CAR clearly affects its neighbors, starting with Chad, particularly because the instability is highest in northern CAR and near the borders with Chad and Sudan. If recent events are any indication, the lead-up to January’s election will see further incidents of violence in CAR, with a potential for spillover into Chad.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student of Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahelblog.