Central African Republic neighbors to send help

 

A day after the U.S. closed its embassy in the Central African Republic, neighboring countries said they will send a soldiers to intervene in the troubled nation, where rebels have seized at least 10 towns.

BANGUI, Central African Republic — Officials from Central African Republic's neighbors say they have agreed to dispatch a contingent of soldiers to intervene in the troubled country.

Representatives from the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States meeting in Gabon, though, did not specify how many troops they could contribute.

The announcement also did not outline how quickly the military assistance would arrive in the country, where rebels are threatening to overthrow the president of nearly a decade.

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

Former colonial power France already has said that its forces in the country are there to protect French interests and not Bozize's government.

Renewed fighting between government forces and rebels broke out Friday in Bambari, the Central African Republic's third-largest city, a military official said, hours after the U.S. ambassador and his team were evacuated from the capital.

Government soldiers appeared to be in control of Bambari following the clashes, according to military officials. The town is about 240 miles from the capital and had been under rebel control for five days.

The United States evacuated about 40 people, including the U.S. ambassador, on an U.S. Air Force plane bound for Kenya, said U.S. officials who insisted on anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the operation. The United States has special operations forces in the country who are assisting in the hunt for Joseph Kony, the fugitive rebel leader of another rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army. The U.S. special operations forces remain in the country, the U.S. military's Africa Command said from its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.

The evacuation of the U.S. diplomats came in the wake of criticism of how the U.S. handled diplomatic security before and during the attack on its consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. The ambassador and three other Americans were killed in that attack.

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 French Embassy in Bangui 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 nation.

This landlocked nation of 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 current president himself came to power nearly a decade ago in the wake of a rebellion in this resource-rich yet deeply poor country.

The rebels behind the most recent instability signed a 2007 peace accord allowing them to join the regular army, but insurgent leaders say the deal wasn't fully implemented. 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."

Despite the nation's wealth of gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, the government remains perpetually cash-strapped.

The rebels also are demanding that the government make payments to ex-combatants, suggesting that their motives may also be for personal financial gain.

The U.N.'s most powerful body condemned the recent violence and expressed concern about the developments.

"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.

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