CAR

Central African Republic: Defence minister denies rebel seizure of Damara

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BANGUI, 10 January (IRIN) - Deputy Defence Minister Xavier Yangongo of the Central African Republic (CAR) denied on Thursday reports that rebels had captured the town Damara, 80 km northeast of the capital, Bangui capital.
"It is wrong. The road to Damara has even become passable," he said.

He was responding to persistent reports that rebels had even reached points 10 km from Bangui. Public alarm grew at these reports, with residents fearing the rebels would re-enter the capital in even greater numbers than they did when they invaded it on 25 October 2002. Local newspapers, moreover, reported that the corpses of dozens of fighters of the Mouvement pour la liberation du Congo (MLC) had been brought to a Bangui hospital morgue, evoking fear, but not panic.

Rebels loyal to the former army chief of staff, Gen Francois Bozize, had occupied Damara for a month before government forces, backed by MLC forces from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo, retook the town early in December 2002.

Government troops have been trying to recapture positions seized by Bozize's supporters since their unsuccessful invasion of Bangui in October. They were flushed out by government troops, backed by MLC and Libyan troops. Government forces currently control the southwest and, theoretically, the easternmost part of the country. Some government-held zones behind rebel positions remain isolated from Bangui and exposed to frequent attacks. The rebels control the cities in the centre and northwest of the country.

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