The Central African Republic will on Sunday begin removing rebels from villages and towns they have occupied since December, the commander of the multinational African force FOMAC said Saturday.
Jean-Felix Akaga told a press conference that the operation’s aim was to round up rebels and allow civilians to “circulate freely”. It would start in the central regions of Bria and Kaga, he said.
Despite a peace deal agreed between Seleka rebels and the Central African government last month, rebels have maintained their often violent control of the towns they took control of at the start of an offensive on December 10.
In an emotive message Saturday, bishops from Central African Republic’s Church called for roads to be reopened to allow people to escape “suffocation”.
“…People are dying of hunger. They are suffocating, they don’t have any fuel or food products, or basic medicines, and telephone communications need to be restored,” they said.
Bishops called on the government to “assume its responsibilities” and rebels to “end once and for all rapes, thefts, killings and atrocities”.
The FOMAC operation will seek to identify the rebels, disarm them and reintegrate them into society if possible, Akaga said.
A power-sharing agreement was struck in January to end a nearly month-long insurgency in the impoverished landlocked state, giving the opposition and the rebel coalition several key posts in the new government.
The Seleka coalition launched its offensive because it said President Francois Bozize’s regime had failed to comply with previous peace deals that should have given demobbed rebels jobs or integrated them in the regular forces.