United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has strongly condemned the armed attacks on several towns in the Central African Republic (CAR) perpetrated by the coalition of rebel groups known as ‘SELEKA,’ and called on all parties to refrain from acts of violence against civilians.
The rebels reportedly captured the northern city of Bambari on Sunday, having earlier seized the area around Bria, and are now said to be advancing toward the capital, Bangui.
“These developments gravely undermine the peace agreements in place and the efforts of the international community to consolidate peace in the Central African Republic,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said a statement issued on Wednesday night.
“The Secretary-General deeply regrets the loss of life and population displacement caused by the fighting,” the spokesperson added.
Meanwhile, the president of Central African Republic (CAR) has urgently called on France and other foreign powers to help his government fend off rebels who are quickly seizing territory and approaching the capital.
Speaking to crowds in Bangui, a city of some 600,000, Francois Bozize on Thursday pleaded with foreign powers to do what they could. He pointed in particular to France, Central African Republic’s former colonial ruler.
“France has the means to stop (the rebels) but unfortunately they have done nothing for us until now,” Bozize said.
But Paris declined to offer any military assistance.
Francois Hollande, the French president, said on Thursday his country wants to protect its interests in Central African Republic and not Bozize’s government.
The comments came a day after dozens of protesters, angry about a lack of help against rebel forces, threw rocks at the French Embassy in Bangui and stole a French flag.
About 200 French soldiers are already in the country, providing technical support and helping to train the local army, according to the French defence ministry.
France is encouraging peace talks between the government and the rebels, with the French foreign ministry noting in a statement that negotiations are due to “begin shortly in Libreville (Gabon)”.
US officials said on Thursday the State Department was closing its embassy in the country and ordered its diplomatic team to leave.
The US ambassador and about 40 others, including a number of Americans, were flown out of Bangui to Kenya, the officials said.
Central African Republic, a landlocked nation of some 4.4 million people, has suffered decades of army revolts, coups and rebellions since gaining independence in 1960 and remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
The rebels behind the most recent instability signed a 2007 peace accord allowing them to join the regular army, but fighters’ leaders say the deal wasn’t fully implemented.