CAR capital falls to rebels

President Bozize flees, France not to send more troops

CAR capital falls to rebels

Rebels in Central African Republic (CAR) seized control of the country’s riverside capital Bangui on Sunday, forcing President Francois Bozize to flee into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, government officials said.

At least six South African soldiers were killed in clashes with the rebels, a witness said. A United Nations source said the force, in the country to train the army along with hundreds of regional peacekeepers, was preparing to leave.

The Seleka rebel coalition resumed hostilities this week in the mineral-rich former French colony, vowing to oust Bozize, whom it accused of breaking a January peace agreement to integrate its fighters into the army.

The landlocked country, racked by rural rebellions for more than a decade, has extensive and unprotected borders and the rebel advance added to instability in the heart of Africa. As the loose coalition of rebels — some of them former rivals — tightened their grip on Bangui, it was unclear who would replace Bozize or whether the power-sharing government of Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye would remain in place.

“The rebels control the town,” said presidency spokesman Gaston Mackouzangba. “I hope there will not be any reprisals.”

Government spokesman Crepin Mboli-Goumba said the Seleka rebels controlled all the strategic locations in the city.

A presidential adviser, who asked not to be named, said Bozize had crossed the Oubangi river into Congo on Sunday morning as rebel forces headed for the presidential palace. Bozize had seized power in a 2003 military coup. A United Nations official in Congo said Kinshasa’s government asked the UN refugee agency to help move 25 members of Bozize’s family out of the border town of Zongo on Sunday.

Congo’s Information Minister Lambert Mende said President Bozize was not among the family members who arrived in Zongo and said his arrival in the country had not been announced to Congolese authorities.  “The palace has just fallen. We have the palace,” Eric Massi, a Seleka spokesman, said over telephone from Paris.

The rebels fought their way to the northern suburbs of the riverside capital late on Saturday night.

France, which already has some 250 soldiers stationed in the CAR, sent in another company of 150 troops to secure Bangui’s airport on Saturday. However, on Sunday it announced that Paris has no plans to send more troops following rebels’ seizure of the Bangui, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

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