The president of the Central African Republic called on France and the United States to deploy a force to repel advancing rebel fighters marching toward the capital of Bangui.
President Francois Bozize requested that the United States and France act “to help us to push back the rebels … to allow for dialogue in Libreville [Gabon] to resolve the current crisis,” he said in a public speech, reported Radio France Internationale.
Since early December, a coalition of rebels known as Seleka took over a large portion of the country’s northern and eastern regions.
“There is no question of allowing them to kill Central Africans, of letting them destroy houses and pillage, and holding a knife to our throats to demand dialogue,” Bozize said, who himself took power in a coup in 2003.
The United Nations began evacuating staff from the Central African Republic, while the United States urged nationals to leave the country as fighters advance on Bangui, reported France24.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky deemed temporarily relocating staff a “precautionary measure” because the rebels’ “continued military offensive seem to indicate that they might be intent on taking Bangui.”
The Seleka rebels, who have taken over the third largest city in the country—Bambari—as well as a diamond mining area, could be as little as 50 miles away from Bangui, reported APA news agency, citing sources in the area. However, it was estimated by France24 that they are around 200 miles from the capital.
They have said that Bozize failed to live up to promises he made in a 2007 peace deal to pay rebel fighters.
According to France24, there are only around a few hundred Chadian troops that were sent to Bangui last week standing in the way of the rebels and Bangui. The Seleka were able to easily dispatch the Central African army during their conquests.
“We call on all the sons and daughters of Central Africa, on all members of defense and security forces still loyal to Francois Bozize’s regime … to lay down their arms immediately,” Seleka said in a statement. Bozize, the statement reads, “has already lost control of the country.”
French President François Hollande said that France would not interfere in the conflict. “If we are present, it is not to protect a regime. It is to protect our nationals and our interests, and in no way to intervene in the internal affairs of a country,” Hollande said, according to RFI. France would get involved only if a U.N. mandate was implemented, he added.
Hollande’s comments prompted supporters of the Central African regime to demonstrate outside the French Embassy.
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