Exclusive Analysis explores the potential directions the Seleka rebel insurgency in the Central African Republic might take in the coming weeks.
Since December 10, the Seleka rebel alliance, numbering some 1,000 fighters, has seized two-thirds of the Central African Republic, capturing the third largest city of Bambari and the diamond mining town of Bria.
The Central African Armed Forces (FACA) has offered little resistance and withdrawn to Damara, around 70 km north of the capital Bangui. Seleka seems very likely to be capable of defeating FACA at Damara and advancing on Bangui.
However, Seleka is unlikely to be willing to engage the 760-strong Central African Multi-National Force (FOMAC) and some 200 newly-deployed South African Defence Force (SADF) troops stationed at Bangui. While neither FOMAC nor SADF currently has a mandate to engage Seleka, this would be likely to be forthcoming if Seleka's advance was to threaten Bangui.
In order to avoid a confrontation with foreign forces, Seleka is likely to hold its positions around Damara and enter into negotiations with President François Bozizé. We assess that two of the more moderate constituent rebel factions within the Seleka alliance are likely to be willing to conclude a ceasefire in return for inclusion of its leadership in a government of national unity, while also retaining control over some of the captured territory.
Meanwhile, President Bozizé is likely aiming to break up Seleka's unity by accepting the conditions offered by moderate factions, while rejecting the demand by the more hard-line CSPK faction for him to step down.
If Bozizé is successful and Seleka's leadership fractures (an increasingly likely scenario), Seleka's withdrawal from most of the captured territory is probable over the next three months. If Bozizé fails to divide Seleka's leadership, an advance on Bangui will become very likely - as will his removal by an army coup.
Negotiations are likely to be dragged out over the next few weeks as both Seleka and Bozizé position themselves to extract maximum concessions. Seleka will aim to put pressure on Bozizé by launching small-scale raids on government forces and assets on the outskirts of Bangui.
The US Embassy building was closed in December and most UN staff and expatriates have already left.
France has increased its troop deployment to 600 soldiers to protect its 1,200 nationals (many of whom have already fled to DRC) and secure an evacuation in the event that Seleka captures Damara and advances on Bangui. President Hollande has explicitly excluded French military action to support Bozizé.
Robert Besseling is the Deputy Head of Africa Forecasting at Exclusive Analysis.