BANGUI, Central African Republic
More regional troops are being sent to secure the capital of the Central African Republic ahead of a rebel advance, with France saying it has no plan to intervene in its former colony’s conflict.
“Bangui is fully secured by the troops” of
the FOMAC central African military force,
its commander, General Jean-Felix Akaga, said on national radio on
Thursday. “Others will arrive to help reinforce this mission of securing Bangui,” he added. The comments came as the UN said it was pulling out non-essential staff from the country where a rebel coalition called Seleka has seized four major regional capitals in less than a month.
The US is also urging its nationals to
leave. French President Francois Hollande said its troops in the country would not be interfering in the conflict, a day after hundreds of protesters at the French embassy in Bangui demanded Paris do more to stem the rebels’ momentum.
“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,in this
case Central Africa,” he said. “Those days are gone,” he added. France has about 250 soldiers based at Bangui airport providing technical support to a peacekeeping mission run by the central African bloc ECCAS, according to the defence ministry in Paris.
Since the end of colonisation in the
1960s, French troops in western Africa
have often aided former colonies whose
regimes were on the verge of being
toppled. The government in Bangui on Wednesday urged France to help facilitate a dialogue with the rebels, while alluding to the French military presence. “The Central African Republic has not lost sight of France’s important contribution in the restructuring of our defence and security forces, because it has often sent military advisers to work with the Central African military and they have always played a role,” said a statement from the minister of territorial administration Josue Binoua.
The rebels began their push in early
December, charging that President
Francois Bozize and his government
haven’t abided by the terms of peace
deals signed between 2007-2011. As the ill-equipped and underpaid Central African army proved little challenge to the insurgents, Bozize asked for assistance from neighbouring Chad,
which helped him during rebellions in the north in 2010. With the government now largely restricted to Bangui, the Chadian troops are the only real obstacle to the rebels who are now about 300 kilometres away.
The United Nations on Wednesday
ordered more than 200 non-essential
staff and families of other workers to
leave the Central African Republic
because of the rebel offensive. The UN has a major political mission in the Central African Republic seeking to help the government overcome more than a decade of strife. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned armed attacks on several towns by the rebels.
Washington expressed “deep concern”
and warned all Americans to leave the
country “until the security situation
improved”. Nassour Ouaidou, the head of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), told AFP the body was trying to broker a truce.
The Central African Republic is a mineral-rich, landlocked country with less than
five million residents. It ranks 179 out of
187 countries on the UN’s latest
development index and has seen
frequent coups and mutinies. Bozize seized power in a coup in 2003.