The rebels on the offensive in the Central African Republic against the power of President Faustin Archangel Touadéra, freshly declared re-elected after a controversial election, attacked Saturday Bouar, a major city 340 km from the capital Bangui, announced the UN peacekeepers.
Two French fighter jets were dispatched for a "mission of overflight" of the country by President Emmanuel Macron who reaffirmed his support for the electoral process and "strongly" condemned the rebels' attempts to "undermine" it.
These aircraft "flew over" Bouar, to "support the military" Central African Republic whose an important base has been taken to task, assured in a message to AFP the Detachment of Operational Assistance in the Central African Republic (DETAO-RCA), French soldiers who are securing the Bangui airport.
In mid-morning, "armed elements attacked the positions of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA)" in Bouar, which houses Camp Leclerc, the army headquarters in the western region, the most densely populated in the country, said Lieutenant-Colonel Abdoulaziz Fall, spokesman for the military component of the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), to AFP.
The peacekeepers "came in support and were also taken to task," he added without further details.
The attack began at 10:30 am when armed elements attacked the FACA base and Minusca who were fired on by rockets, but told AFP UN officials on condition of anonymity.
Two attack helicopters of Minusca were engaged and the fighting stopped at around 12:30, according to the same sources. "UNMIN has regained control of the situation," said to AFP a high-ranking peacekeepers in Bouar.
Six of the most powerful of the armed groups that have occupied two-thirds of the country since the start of the civil war in 2013, allied themselves in mid-November in a Coalition of Patriots for the Central African Republic (CPC). Then they launched an offensive to disrupt the elections, 10 days before the presidential and legislative elections on 27 December.
Faced with the FACA strongly supported by the Blue Helmets and significant reinforcements of Russian paramilitaries and Rwandan soldiers, the rebels have so far made little progress towards Bangui and their attacks are generally confined to towns hundreds of km from the capital.
But Bouar is the fifth largest city in the country with 40,000 inhabitants and occupies a strategic position on a crucial road for supplying Bangui from Cameroon.
Mr. Touadéra, who has ruled the country since 2016, was declared re-elected on 4 December, but only one out of two voters had the opportunity to go to the polls on 27 December because of insecurity in a country two-thirds of which is occupied by armed groups, rebels or simple predators of its resources.
Ten opposition candidates called for the presidential and legislative elections to be cancelled, which they said were "discredited" by "massive fraud" and low voter turnout. The results must be validated by the Constitutional Court before 19 January, after the study of appeals.
The announcement three weeks ago of a rebel offensive to prevent the elections has rekindled tensions in the country, which has been plagued since 2013 by a civil war that will continue until 2018, before easing to a low level.
In his statement on Saturday, Mr Macron called for "respect for the forthcoming decisions of the Constitutional Court, while stressing the need for an open and inclusive political dialogue".