US evacuates C. Africa embassy as alarm grows over rebels

28th December 2012, Comments 0 comments

The United States evacuated its embassy in the Central African Republic as President Francois Bozize's appeals for French and US help against rebels who have seized much of the country fell on deaf ears Friday.

The United Nations on Thursday demanded that the rebels halt their nearly three-week offensive and urged Bozize's government to ensure the safety of civilians amid fears in the capital Bangui of a breakdown in law and order.

"The members of the Security Council reiterate their demand that the armed groups immediately cease hostilities, withdraw from captured cities and cease any further advance towards the city of Bangui," a statement said.

It also emphasised "the responsibility of the government of the Central African Republic to maintain law and order and to ensure the safety and security of the civilian population".

Washington said Thursday it had evacuated its embassy and temporarily halted all operations there.

The State Department said it had not broken off diplomatic ties with the beleaguered government, but warned US citizens not to travel to the chronically unstable country, one of the poorest on the planet.

There was no direct response from Washington to Bozize's appeal for help although a State Department statement urged dialogue.

"The United States encourages all parties in the Central African Republic to participate in the dialogue to be held under the auspices of the Economic Community of Central African States to develop a comprehensive agreement that will offer a new vision of peace and security for the country," it said.

The United Nations is also pulling out its staff in response to the advances by the rebel fighters which have alarmed residents in Bangui.

"We ask our French cousins and the United States of America, the great powers, to help us to push back the rebels... to allow for dialogue in Libreville to resolve the current crisis," Bozize, who took power in a 2003 coup, told thousands of supporters at a rally in Bangui on Thursday.

About 300 women marched on Friday to urge the rebel coalition known as Seleka, which took up arms on December 10 and has since taken a string of towns including four regional capitals, to stop fighting.

"We want peace in CAR," the women chanted as they marched in the city centre to deliver a petition to Prime Minister Faustin Archange Touadera.

"Our country is in danger... People are killing our brothers in the country," said Estelle Loka, a housewife with three childen.

Loka described France as the "godfather" of the nation and said that "France has to defend us."

The former colonial power has however insisted it would not intervene in the CAR, which has a chequered history of coups and brutal rule since independence from France in 1960.

President Francois Hollande said on Thursday "those days are over".

In 2006, France, which supported Bozize in his rise to power, had lent logistical help and air support to fight off rebels.

Seleka -- which means "alliance" in the Sango language -- has seized four regional capitals, including the diamond mining hub and garrison twon of Bria.

While Seleka says it has no plans to move on the capital, a statement last week announcing it had suspended its advance was followed within a day by news of further rebel victories.

On Wednesday, demonstrators angry at France's failure to intervene tore down the flag at the French embassy in Bangui and broke windows at the building.

"It would not take much for things to explode," a French resident said, warning that Bangui residents feared looting and a breakdown of order.

France has around 250 soldiers based at Bangui airport providing technical support to a peacekeeping mission run by the central African bloc ECCAS.

As the ill-equipped Central African army proved little challenge to the insurgents, Bozize asked for help from neighbouring Chad.

And with the government now largely restricted to Bangui, the contingent of Chadian troops is the only real obstacle to the rebels.

The multinational central African force known as FOMAC, which has several hundred soldiers in the Central African Republic, said Thursday more troops were coming, but there are no details about numbers or timing.

Nassour Ouaidou, the head of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), told AFP in the Gabonese capital Libreville that the body was trying to broker a truce.

© 2012 AFP

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