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bangui: Fears that rebels will seize control of the Central African Republic’s capital were intensifying, as the US closed its embassy in the country, citing concerns about the security of their personnel.
The US ambassador and around 40 American diplomats were evacuated from Bangui early yesterday.
The United Nations security council expressed concern about the situation, which has seen around a dozen towns fall into the hands of the Seleka coalition of rebels within the last two weeks, in one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most coup-prone republics.
“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.
The rebels - dissident fighters from former opposition groups in the chronically unstable but mineral-rich country - said they would topple the government unless it honoured the terms of an earlier peace agreement.
The group, whose name means coalition, has claimed that its 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”.
It also opposes plans by president Francois Bozize - who initially seized power following a brief war but has since won two elections - to seek a third term in office.
But there was confusion about the rebels’ intentions, as both sides accused each other of breaking the terms of former agreements. Despite an earlier promise not to attack Bangui, the group has advanced ever closer to the capital in recent days, while also stating its willingness to engage in talks.
There were reports that the foreign affairs minister, Antoine Gambi, arrived in Gabonon yesterday, prompting speculation that further negotiations might be imminent.
“The United States encourages all parties in the Central African Republic to participate in the dialogue,” said the state department, in a statement.
Bozize and other members of the Central African Republic government have issued increasingly desperate pleas for help, calling on France to deploy troops to oust the rebels. France, the colonial power in CAR until 1960, has 250 troops in the country, but said it would not intervene in the conflict.
President Francois Hollande prompted anger earlier this week, stating that the role of French troops would be confined to protecting the French embassy, which was attacked by protestors earlier this week.
There are also reports that French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, spoke on the phone with Bozize, asking the president to take responsibility for the safety of French nationals and diplomatic missions in CAR.
French nuclear giant Areva has a uranium mine in the country, which is also a major exporter of diamonds and timber.