All non-essential UN staff said to be removed from Central African Republic, as Seleka rebels advance closer to Bangui.
Looting and gunfire have been reported across many parts of the Central African Republic’s capital city after rebels seized the presidential palace there on Saturday.
Witnesses said on Sunday that gunfire could be heard across many parts of Bangui and that businesses were being looted, including the home of President Francois Bozize’s son.
“The situation is rather precarious, most residents are in their homes [because] everything has pretty much been looted,” said Amy Martin, the Bangui bureau chief for the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs.
She adding that the looting was done by “a combination of armed elements” as well as neighbourhood residents targeting houses in the diplomatic community.
Sylvanne Omar Pordass, a spokesperson of the Seleka rebels, told Al Jazeera that the president had fled into the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, after rebels took control of the capital.
Government officials also confirmed that Bozize had fled into the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The rebels control the town,” said Gaston Mackouzangba, a spokesman for the president. “I hope there will not be any reprisals.”
A foreign ministry official confirmed to Al Jazeera that the rebels had taken control of the national TV and radio stations.
Responding to the latest developments, African Union Chief, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, condemned the rebels’ seizure of power and urged members to make a unified, decisive response.
On Monday, the office of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement, saying “he is deeply concerned by reports of serious violations of human rights”, underscoring that those “responsible for committing such violations will be held accountable”.
He condemned the seizure, calling for “the swift restoration of constitutional order”.
The rebels resumed hostilities this week in the mineral-rich former French colony, vowing to topple Bozize, whom they accuse of breaking a January peace agreement to integrate its fighters into the army.
The loose umbrella group of insurgents fought its way to the gates of the capital late last year after accusing Bozize of failing to honour an earlier peace deal to give its fighters cash and jobs in exchange for laying down their arms.
“I think now that Bangui has fallen and the president is out, the citizens are hopeful there will be no more military violence,” said Michael Amoah, an African political analyst based in London. “And the current prime minister stays in place; he is the choice of the rebels anyway.”
A spokesman for the prime minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, on Saturday called on the rebels to accept talks to “avoid a bloodbath.”
Tiangaye, an opposition figure, was only appointed as part of the peace deal brokered between the government and the rebels in January, an agreement that broke down last week.
‘No direct threat’
The violence is the latest in a series of rebel incursions, clashes and coups that have plagued the landlocked nation in the heart of Africa since its independence from France in 1960.
France, which already has some 250 soldiers stationed in the Central African Republic, sent in another company of 150 troops to secure Bangui’s international airport, a diplomatic source said.
“We have asked our citizens to remain at home. For the time being, there is nothing to be worried about,” said the source. “There is no direct threat to our citizens at the moment.”
On Sunday, the French presidency said they were determined to protect their citizens in the country and had decided to strengthen their military presence.
The airport, close to the heart of the capital, would be an important exit point for France’s 1,200 citizens who live in CAR, mostly in Bangui.
South Africa has sent some 400 soldiers to train Bozize’s army, joining hundreds of peacekeepers from the Central African regional bloc. Regional peacekeeping sources said the South Africans had fought alongside the Central African Republic’s army.
State radio had announced late on Friday that South Africa would boost its troop presence after Bozize met his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma in Pretoria.