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Heavy fighting in northern CAR, many flee: military

(AFP) – Dec 10, 2012 

BANGUI, Central African Republic — Heavy fighting broke out Monday between armed men and forces of the Central African Republic in the key northern city of Ndele, causing many residents to flee, a military source said.

"Armed men entered the city firing automatic weapons. Then loud detonations started being heard," forcing many people to flee to neighbouring towns or the bush, the military source told AFP.

Ndele, which has between 15,000 and 20,000 inhabitants, was already the scene of violent clashes between different rebel groups and the army in 2007-2010.

"After more than one hour of fighting between assailants and elements of the Central African armed forces, part of the centre of Ndele was occupied by these armed men," the military source said.

According to the source, the forces were backed by former rebels from the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), who since signing peace accords last year have controlled the city while on good terms with the army.

Local officials have yet to release a statement about Monday's events, for which a death toll was not immediately available.

The military suspects that men allied with Michel Djotodia, a co-founder of the former rebel movement the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), were behind the latest violence.

Djotodia went into exile in Benin in 2007 when the UFDR signed peace agreements with Bangui, but recent reports suggest he is back in the country.

Monday's clashes also come amid a wave of attacks on the armed forces since September near the capital. A CPJP faction that does not recognise the peace deal claimed responsibility for the violence.

The Central African Republic has been rocked by regular rebellions and coups since the fall in 1979 of military dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa, one of Africa's most ruthless rulers, who was accused of serving up his political rivals to lions and crocodiles.

The instability has hobbled progress in a country that ranks among the world's poorest despite a wealth of raw materials such as uranium, diamonds and timber.

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