Faustin-Archange Touadéra, president of the Central African Republic, has dismissed three rebel chiefs from the government following an offensive launched before elections on 27 December, signalling the end of the 2019 Khartoum peace agreement and integration of the rebels into an inclusive government in Bangui.
The decrees signed late on 31 December by Touadéra dismiss Maxim Mokom, leader of one the anti-Balaka group factions, according to RFI's Florence Morice.
Mokom joined the government in March 2019 as minister in charge of disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation, reintegration and resettlement, as part of the Khartoum deal that sought to create an inclusive government. Mokom is also considered close to former President François Bozizé.
Ali Darassa, head of the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) group, and Mahamat al-Khatim, leader of the Central African Patriotic Movement (MPC) group, were equally fired as special military advisers to the government.
Authorities in Bangui said dismissal of the three followed a new rebellion launched in the lead-up to the country's presidential and parliamentary elections, according to Albert Yaloke Mokpeme, a spokesperson for the presidency.
The dismissal comes shortly after an offensive by a newly-formed coalition of rebel groups called the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) supported by former president Bozizé.
Polls on 27 December 2020 were held in challenging circumstances with many voters panicked by gunfire or attacks on administrative buildings in several places across the country.
Some 14 percent of polling stations could not open and the elections were also beset by some organisational difficulties.
Counting for the elections continues, although it is widely expected to result in a second term for incumbent President Touadéra.
The government in Bangui described the polls as "credible", while observers talked about the enthusiasm amongst Central African voters, though there were questions about the lack of election monitoring outside of the capital Bangui given the insecurity.
Politicians from the Democratic Opposition Coalition (COD) demanded the "pure and simple cancellation of re-running of the elections" in the face of numerous problems they cited, including the transport and counting of results, voter lists, as well as voter intimidation and vote buying.
UN peacekeepers from the MINUSCA force, took charge of transporting ballot boxes on election day, and said it had noted at least 57 incidents of human rights abuses, perpetrated by armed groups between 22 - 29 Dec, with some 96 victims.
Civilians have been caught in the crossfire of three weeks of escalating violence in the CAR, with fighting between rebel groups, CAR soldiers, MINUSCA and allied forces.
Some of the injured have sought treatment at the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Bangui, as reported by correspondent Charlotte Cosset.
"When they started firing, I was above the driver's cabin," said Michel, who was trying to leave Bambari, 280 kilometres northeast of Bangui, when his vehicle was caught in a gunfight at a roadblock.
"Colleagues next to me were hit by the bullets, we tried to hide in the truck, but the gunfire continued. There was a lot of shooting, and a lot of injuries," he told Bangui correspondent Cosset, after receiving treatment for four bullet wounds.
The increasing violence before the election came following a call by rebel groups to boycott the elections, and Bozizé's accusations that Touadéra was not allowing Central Africans to freely choose their leader.
Bozizé's candidacy in the elections was invalidated by a ruling of CAR's constitutional court, saying the former president was wanted for alleged murder and torture, and was under UN sanctions.
Caesar Poblicks, an expert on CAR at Conciliation Resources, an international organisation working on conflict, told this week's Africa Calling podcast that the constitutional court judgement on Bozizé's candidacy "brought in a completely different dynamic" to the elections.
"The government is controlling Bangui and attempting to exert its control over the countryside," said Poblicks, describing the security situation in CAR and the control armed groups wield over the vast country.
The newly formed coalition of rebel groups and Bozizé's alignment with them is not unusual, according to Tim Glawion, a researcher on CAR at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies think tank.
"The changes in alliances in the Central African Republic are quite common," Glawion told Africa Calling, referring to the different positioning of Seleka and anti-Balaka rebel factions. "It would be completely wrong to assume that Bozizé actually controls these armed groups."
Intervention by international actors in the CAR is also a complex picture, with France, Russia and Rwanda fielding a presence besides CAR troops and MINUSCA supporting the authorities in Bangui.
Russia's support for Touadéra's government gives them a geopolitical foothold in the Central African region, says Glawion, describing competing interests with France, which feels a colonial-era responsibility towards helping CAR deal with its problems.
The 2019 Khartoum peace deal resulted from the 2013 overthrow of Bozizé by the Seleka rebel group, leading to several years of insecurity and violence.
French military intervention in the country and deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission somewhat stabilised the country although flare-ups of violence have continued.