CAR neighbours agree to send support troops

Representatives from 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States pledge to help as rebels advance on Bangui.

The Central African Republic’s neighbours have agreed to dispatch a contingent of soldiers to intervene in the troubled country, where a coalition of rebel groups is seeking to overthrow the president of nearly a decade.

Representatives from the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States meeting in Gabon on Friday did not specify how many troops they could contribute nor did they outline how quickly the military assistance would arrive.

President Francois Bozize had earlier pleaded for international help as fears grew that the rebels would soon attack the capital of 600,000 people.

Speaking to crowds in Bangui on Thursday, Bozize 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.

For its part, France already has said that its forces in the Central African Republic are there to protect French interests and not Bozize’s government.

On Friday and early Saturday, France deployed 150 extra troops to Bangui to reinforce those already there, according to Le Parisien

The reinforcements from Libreville, Gabon are a “pre-cautionary measure” for the “protection of French and European nationals,” the French defence ministry told the newspaper.

The French radio RFI is also reporting that a dozen soldiers have been deployed to a place known as “17 villas” where many of the 1,200 French expatriates live.

Renewed fighting

“We are now thinking about the arrangements to make so that this mission can be deployed as quickly as possible,” Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet, Gabon’s foreign affairs minister, said after Friday’s meeting.

The announcement came as military officials in Central African Republic reported renewed fighting in the third largest city, Bambari, which fell under rebel control five days ago.

The military said it had taken control of the town, located about 385km from the capital – a claim that could not be
independently verified.

The ongoing instability has prompted the US to evacuate about 40 people, including the US ambassador, on an US Air Force plane bound for Kenya, US officials told the Associated Press news agency. The State Department announced on Thursday that it was temporarily closing its embassy in Bangui.

French diplomats are staying despite a violent demonstration outside its embassy earlier this week. Dozens of protesters, angry about a lack of help against rebel forces, threw rocks at the embassy and stole a French flag.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke via phone with Bozize, asking him to take responsibility for the safety of French nationals and diplomatic missions in the country. France is encouraging peace talks between the government and the rebels.

‘Cease hostilities’

The UN Security Council issued a press statement late on Thursday reiterating its concern about the situation in the country and condemning the attacks.

“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,” the statement 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. It 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 was not fully implemented.

Already, the rebel forces have seized at least 10 towns across the sparsely populated north of the country, and residents in the capital now fear the insurgents could attack at any time – despite assurances by rebel leaders that they are willing to engage in dialogue instead of attacking Bangui.

The rebels have claimed that their actions are justified in light of the “thirst for justice, for peace, for security and for economic development of the people of Central African Republic”.

Source: News Agencies