The former president of the Central African Republic has denied, through his spokesperson, that he is planning a coup.
On Saturday, the government accused François Bozizé of marching with a rebel alliance in the capital, Bangui, a week before a general election.
But spokesman Christian Guenebem said he was at home in Bossangoa.
“If, in the minds of some men of the armed groups, it represents an alternative, it is not the fault of François Bozizé”, he told French television channel RFI.
“It may be the fault of those who failed to come up with a credible alternative.”
Tensions have mounted after the rejection of Mr. Bozizé’s candidacy in national elections next week by the country’s highest court.
The UN said on Friday it had deployed peacekeepers to the country.
President Faustin Archange Touadéra insisted the polls continue, saying the presence of the military and UN peacekeepers means people have nothing to fear.
But the opposition parties, including that of Mr. Bozizé, demanded that the vote be postponed “until the restoration of peace and security”.
Rebel groups seized several towns near the CAR capital, clashing with government forces and looting property, and the UN said its troops were working to prevent a blockade of Bangui.
Mr. Guenebem told AFP news agency: “We categorically deny that Bozizé is at the origin of anything”.
CAR is one of the poorest and most unstable countries in Africa, even though it is rich in resources like diamonds and uranium. The UN estimates that half of the population depends on humanitarian aid and up to a fifth has been displaced.
Who are the key players in this crisis?
François Bozizé, a Christian, came to power after a coup in 2003 and then won two elections widely considered to be fraudulent. He was ousted in 2013 by the Seleka – a rebel coalition largely drawn from the Muslim minority – who accused him of breaking the peace accords.
The country has since been caught up in a conflict between the Seleka and the so-called “anti-Balaka” self-defense forces, mostly Christian.
After the military intervention of France, the country’s former colonial ruler, elections were held in 2016 and won by President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, currently a candidate for re-election.
But fighting between militias continued and the UN blamed rebel groups for the country’s instability.
Mr. Bozizé, 74, returned to CAR in December 2019 after living in exile for six years in Benin, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He announced in July that he would run in the December 27 election – a move that was considered high risk given the ongoing civil unrest in the country, but not unexpected.
Mr. Bozizé still has a large following, especially in the military and among the country’s largest ethnic group, the Gbaya.
But he faces UN sanctions for his alleged support for “anti-Balaka” groups in 2013. Central African authorities have also issued an arrest warrant against him for “crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide” .
What is the threat now?
On Saturday, the three main rebel groups announced they had formed an alliance called the Coalition of Patriots for Change (PCC), and accused President Touadéra of trying to rig the upcoming elections.
In a statement, the CCP invited “all other groups to join,” and called on its members to “scrupulously respect the integrity of the civilian population.”
As the election campaign heats up, Facebook said earlier this week it had identified rival disinformation campaigns to influence the vote – led by individuals with ties to the French military and a prominent Russian businessman, Yevgeniy Prigozhin.
Moscow has maintained close ties in recent years with the CAR. Russian military advisers are currently stationed in the country to help train government forces.
Reports from UN investigators, the US military and journalists have also documented the activity in the country of the Wagner Group, a private military company believed to be owned by Mr. Prigozhin.