KIGALI, 21 December 2020 – Rwanda has deployed what it calls a “protection force” to the Central African Republic (CAR) ahead of presidential elections there next December 27.
Kigali decided to deploy the force after Rwandese peacekeepers in CAR came under attack from rebels advancing on the capital, Bangui, last week.
The “protection force” will have “different rules of engagement which will enable them to protect our forces from being attacked, and protect civilians,” Rwandan President Paul Kagame explained on Monday.
At least 750 Rwandan soldiers and police officers have been operating under the United Nations peacekeeping force in CAR known as MINUSCA.
MINUSCA said Monday that the advance by the rebels has been halted.
It is still unclear if the towns that had fallen under rebel control, with some of them merely 100 kilometers away from Bangui, have seen the rebels driven out and the towns returned to the control of government security forces.
The CAR government has accused ex-President Francois Bozize of backing the rebels and plotting a coup.
Bozize, who returned to the country in December 2019 after six years in exile and was last week disqualified by the Constitutional Court from running for the December 27 presidential ballot, has denied any wrongdoing.
“We categorically deny that Bozizé is at the origin of anything,” a spokesperson for the former president, Christian Guenebem, told reporters Saturday in Bangui.
Russia has also sent “several hundred soldiers and heavy weapons” to CAR.
The French News Agency (AFP) cited a government spokesperson, Ange Maxime Kazagui, as saying the Russians are in CAR to support the government of incumbent President Faustin-Archange Touadera.
Kazagui said the Russian forces were invited to the country as part of bilateral defense agreements.
On Monday, a Russian presidential spokesperson, Dimitry Peskov, told journalists in Moscow that Russia considers the situation in CAR “a matter of serious concern”.
Peskov did not confirm if Russian troops were in CAR to support the government.
Kigali has not confirmed a statement by Kazagui that the Rwandan “protection force” of several hundred men is not only on the ground in CAR but has “started fighting”.
Rwandan defense officials have not provided the exact number of soldiers deployed.
The New Times newspaper published in Kigali on Monday put the number of soldiers in the “protection force” at 850.
Kigali has explained that the operation was done “under existing bilateral agreements” with CAR.
Last December 3, the Constitutional Court said Bozize did not satisfy the “good morality” requirement for candidates because of an international warrant and United Nations sanctions against him for his alleged association with rebels who assassinated, tortured, and murdered civilians.
Bozize is accused of directing crimes against humanity and for incitement to genocide.