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Reports: Central African Republic rebels enter capital suburbs

After months of advances, Central African Republic rebels have entered the northern suburbs of the capital Bangui.

Central african republic rebels enter capital 2013 03 23Enlarge
Seleka rebels patrol the roads near the Central African Republic city of Damara on January 8, 2013. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

After months of threats and advances, Central African Republic rebels entered the northern suburbs of the capital Bangui today.

Rebels were seen fighting running gun battles with government troops, a Reuters eyewitness on the ground said.

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Rebel spokesman Eric Massi called on the army not to fight them and for the president to leave, AFP reported

Another spokesman for the Seleka rebel group told Reuters the rebels had shot down a government military helicopter that had been attacking them since Friday.

A senior official with a regional peacekeeping force, who asked not to be identified, also said rebels were fighting government troops inside Bangui and had shot down the attack helicopter.

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Speaking to Al Jazeera from Bangui, Sylvain Groulx of Doctors without Borders said the fighting has not yet reached the center of the capital.

"We are about two to three kilometers from the center of Bangui and we cannot hear any shooting, but we have heard the same information that a group of rebels has entered the capital," he said.

Earlier, an aerial attack against rebel positions along two main roads from Damara halted the groups, also killing one civilian and wounding six soldiers, The Associated Press reported.

Rebels took conrol of the town of Bossembele early today after seizing Damara on Friday.

Non-essential United Nations personnel in Bangui board a bus to the airport, although youths along the road tried to stop them, the AP reported.

“No one leaves this country. You will stay here. If we die, we all die together,” the youths shouted.

Rebel forces threatened to advance on the capital months ago, but stopped just before Damara before entering into talks with the government. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/130323/central-african-republic-rebels-enter-capital-suburbs