Central African Republic President Francois Bozize fled the capital, Bangui, after the rebel Seleka movement captured the city.
Bozize, 66, left for an undisclosed location after the renegade fighters seized Bangui yesterday, Central African Republic’s consul to Gabon, Claude Ayo-Iguendha, said in an interview in the Gabonese capital, Libreville. France, which Ayo-Iguendha said has about 1,200 citizens living in Bangui, sent troops to the country to help protect them.
French President Francois Hollande boosted “our military presence in Bangui to ensure, if necessary, the protection of French residents” after Bozize’s departure, according to a statement from the president’s office in Paris. He urged “all parties to remain calm and for talks to take place around the government formed under the Libreville accord.”
The Central African Republic has been plagued by violence since independence from France in 1960, with at least four battles for Bangui taking place from 1996 to 2003, when Bozize toppled predecessor Ange-Felix Patasse, whom he served as army chief. Seleka began their rebellion in December after accusing Bozize of filing to honor a 2008 peace accord. An agreement signed in Libreville in January ended the fighting. The rebels resumed combat last week after Bozize failed to meet a new set of demands.
“We are very concerned by the worsening humanitarian situation in CAR and credible, widespread reports of human rights abuses by both national security forces and Seleka fighters,” Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said in a statement today. “Perpetrators of such abuses must be held accountable.”
The U.S. is urging the Seleka leadership to establish law and order and restore basic electric and water services. The U.S. also wants the Seleka leadership to recognize the legitimacy of the government and welcomes the continued engagement of regional leaders from Chad and the Congo Republic in negotiating a political solution, Nuland said.
The rebels killed an unspecified number of South African forces on the outskirts of Bangui while they were advancing on the city yesterday, the South African army said.
“We have suffered some casualties and injuries,” Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga, a spokesman for the South African National Defense Force, said by phone yesterday. “Our base has been secured.”
Soldiers from the Congo Republic, France, Gabon and South Africa were deployed in the country after the Libreville agreement was signed. South African President Jacob Zuma yesterday urged the rebels to respect that accord, according to a separate statement from the French presidency.
Under the agreement, Bozize’s administration and the rebels agreed to form a government of national unity. Nicolas Tiangaye, an opposition leader, was appointed prime minister, while Seleka was given five Cabinet posts including the Defense Ministry.
Bozize fled by helicopter to Cameroon with his two sons and an adviser, Xinhua reported, citing Mebe Ngo’o Edgar Alain, an official in the West African nation’s Defense Ministry. Bozize left the presidential palace about 30 minutes before it was seized by the rebels, the news agency said.
Pangea Diamondfields Inc., an Isle of Man-based exploration company, owns a concession in Central African Republic that is currently on care and maintenance, according to the company’s website. Axmin Inc. (AXM), a Canadian gold explorer, said Jan. 7 it delayed plans to open a mine in the country by at least a year because of the rebellion.
The country has a gross domestic product of about $3.6 billion and earns most of its foreign currency from timber and diamond exports, according to the CIA World Factbook.
To contact the reporters on this story: Antoine Lawson in Libreville at firstname.lastname@example.org; Fabio Benedetti-Valentini in Paris at email@example.com
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