FREETOWN, Sierra Leone -- There were conflicting reports on Saturday about a rebel advance on the capital of the Central African Republic, with some saying the rebels had entered the city, but with witnesses in the capital and the president's spokesman denying it.
Residents in the capital, Bangui, were left in darkness after the electricity was cut off by rebels at a generating station to the north. Fearing the threat of combat, residents stayed in their homes. But the streets were said to be empty, and witnesses said there was no fighting.
For months members of a loose coalition of rebel groups known as Seleka, unhappy with the country's president -- who seized power in a 2003 coup and was subsequently elected in questionable votes -- have been fitfully advancing toward Bangui.
Last week, citing numerous grievances, including what they said was the failure of the president, François Bozizé, to stick to a January peace deal and integrate some of their men into the army, the rebels advanced again. The rebels' spokesman, based in Paris, insisted that rebel fighters had entered the capital on Saturday afternoon.
But witnesses in Bangui said the rebels were at least 60 miles away. Outside the capital the rebels clashed with government troops and South African forces, which had been helping train the country's army, in the towns of Damara and Boali. Mr. Bozizé was still in the capital, his spokesman said, and had made a public appearance with South African forces on Saturday.
The president's spokesman, Gaston Mackouzangda, aroused from sleep on Saturday night in the capital, insisted that all was calm in Bangui.
"Bangui has not fallen," Mr. Mackouzangda said. "There is no fighting. Measures have been taken to defend the capital." He added that the rebel forces had been pushed back at Damara.
Mr. Bozizé's presidential guard was still in place around the palace in Bangui on Saturday.
"It is out of the question that power will fall into the hands of Seleka," Mr. Mackouzangda said. He said that "Seleka has opted for war and the violation of democratic principles," but that the president was still committed to the January peace deal.
For his part, the rebel spokesman, Eric Massi, offered a completely different version of events, saying that "the operation is unfolding" in the capital and that the rebel forces had "encountered some resistance from the presidential guard." But his claims were difficult to verify, and reports of actual fighting in the capital were scarce.
A former French colony, the Central African Republic is a desperately poor nation with a history of coups and rebellions. A French military spokesman, Col. Thierry Burkhard, said Saturday that France maintained a permanent deployment of 250 troops at the Bangui airport, which the French said was secure.
Christian Panika contributed reporting from Bangui, Central African Republic, and Scott Sayare from Paris.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.