BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Armed groups stood on the outskirts of Bangassou on Tuesday, raising fears of further clashes in the southern city a day after two U.N. peacekeepers were killed in a nearby ambush blamed on rebels.
Tensions are high in Central African Republic after other coalition rebels attempted a rare attack on the capital of Bangui last week in the aftermath of President Faustin Archange Touadera’s reelection on Dec. 27.
Now residents of Bangassou say rebel fighters from the northeast of Central African Republic have begun arriving in the same area where only days earlier other rebels had left after controlling the city for more than a month.
Abacar Sabone, a spokesman for the rebel coalition known as the Coalition of Patriots for Change, says his fighters consider Bangassou to be strategically important.
“It is from this city that Touadera is bringing in mercenaries,” he alleged of the town located 750 kilometers (310 miles) from the capital on the border with Congo.
The Rev. Jean-Noel Kinazounga at the Cathedral of St. Pierre Claver said there was an uneasy calm Tuesday in Bangassou, where residents remained fearful of more violence.
“We are afraid to go to the field or even join our parents on the other side of the river because of the return in force and the armed men,” said Angeline Koundro, a 40-year-old resident.
Rebel fighters had first seized control of Bangassou in early December, looting shops and plunging the city into crisis. Local officials say some residents drown while attempting to flee across the river to neighboring Congo.
The rebel forces finally withdrew from the town last week but now other fighters have recently come into the area from the country’s north, residents say. Those arriving rebels are being blamed for Monday’s attack that killed two U.N. peacekeepers.
A peacekeeper from Gabon and another from Morocco were killed about 17 kilometers (about 11 miles) outside the embattled city, according to Vladimir Monteiro, the spokesman for the U.N. mission known as MINUSCA.
The rebels’ attempted attack on the capital last week marked the most serious threat to Bangui since 2013, when a coalition of predominantly Muslim rebels known as Seleka overthrew President Francois Bozize after long claiming marginalization.
Later that year, militia fighters known as the anti-Balaka launched their own assault on Bangui in an attempt to overthrow Michel Djotodia’s rebel-led government. Eventually the anti-Balaka began attacking Muslim civilians too, beating people to death in the streets, destroying mosques and forcing tens of thousands of Muslims to flee Bangui in 2014.
The rebel president Djotodia eventually stepped aside amid international pressure and an interim government organized democratic elections, which Touadera won in 2016. While he won reelection in December with 53% of the vote, he continues to face political opposition from forces linked to ex-president Bozize, who was disqualified from taking part in the recent presidential vote.
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.