CAR military recapture rebel-held town

Military officials in the Central African Republic say they have retaken a key northern town that was captured by rebels last week. The country’s president is pushing a peace deal ahead of 2010 elections.

Military officials in Bangui say government troops have recaptured the town of Ndele, about 675 km north of the capital. It was at the centre of fighting earlier this year that drove more than 8000 civilians across the border into Chad.

Rebels from the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace took control of Ndele last Thursday in a three-pronged attack that the government says killed at least 15 people including two soldiers. Government forces from the garrison there regrouped and regained command of the town over the weekend, driving out rebels led by former Prime Minister Charles Massi.

Massi broke away from the larger Union of Democratic Forces for Unity when it joined other opposition groups in last year’s peace accord. That deal includes the demobilization and reintegration of former combatants.

President Francois Bozize says he is pushing ahead with the accord.

In an interview on state-run radio, President Bozize says a new structure is in place within local committees near former combatants and former rebels. If this demobilization takes hold, he says conditions will be in place to bring more investment and social development.

With the recapture of Ndele, President Bozize says the situation is now normal after rebels cut the route to the north. He says there is peace now, as illustrated by the October return of former President Ange Felix Patasse.

Bozize toppled Patasse in a 2003 rebellion and won election as the country’s president in 2005. Patasse returned from exile in Togo last month promising to challenge Bozize in next year’s presidential elections.

While the former leader has received a pardon in the Central African Republic for crimes allegedly committed in the final days of his presidency, the International Criminal Court is investigating Patasse’s connection with Congolese rebel leader Jean Pierre Bemba.

Bemba is facing war crimes charges at the ICC. Prosecutors say Bemba and then-President Patasse agreed on a single mandate: "to protect the Patasse presidency and attack civilians thought to be allied to rebels."

President Bozize says Patasse is free to contest the 2010 election, in which they will be joined as candidates by former Prime Minister Martin Ziguélé.

As that vote approaches, President Bozize is eager to secure the demobilization of former fighters and end the rebellion in the north to restore security along the border with Chad, where two aid workers were kidnaped at gunpoint one week ago.

He is also facing an incursion by Ugandan rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army in the south. Ugandan government troops are fighting in the Central African Republic against those rebels after pursuing them through the Democratic Republic of Congo.