CAR wants French help as rebels close in on capital

BANGUI, (Reuters) – A government minister in the Central African Republic yesterday called for French soldiers stationed there to intervene as rebels closed in on the capital having passed the last major town to the north.

The appeal for help came as hundreds of people protested outside the French Embassy in Bangui, the capital, throwing stones at the building and tearing down the French flag in anger at a rebel advance through the north of the country.

Paris did not immediately respond to the aid request but announced that French troops would be deployed to secure the embassy. The United Nations criticized the rebel advance.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, issued a statement saying Ban “strongly condemns the armed attacks on several towns in the Central African Republic perpetrated by the coalition of rebel groups ‘SELEKA’.”  “These developments gravely undermine the peace agreements in place and the efforts of the international community to consolidate peace in the Central African Republic,” he said.

Nesirky also confirmed that dependents and all “non-essential” U.N. staff had been temporarily relocated. He added that Ban’s special representative in the country, Margaret Vogt, “continues to engage the government and the rebel leaders with a view to ensuring a ceasefire and initiating dialogue.” U.N. officials told Reuters privately that around 50 essential U.N. staff have remained in the CAR while the rest were relocated to Senegal.

The rebel push through a string of towns in recent weeks has highlighted the fragility of the land-locked nation, which has rich deposits of uranium as well as gold and diamonds but has been largely unstable since independence from France in 1960.

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