The president of the Central African Republic asked for help from other nations to stave off rebel advances that threaten his rule.
The former French colony asked France and the United States to help ensure the rebels return home instead of destroying and killing Central Africans.
His plea comes at a time when the US says it has evacuated its embassy in the Central African Republic as rebels threaten to advance towards the capital, Bangui.
Security concerns deepened in the capital of Central African Republic on Friday after the U.S. ambassador and his diplomatic team were evacuated out of the country by plane overnight amid fears rebels could try to take the capital.
But as the rebel forces paused at the riverside city’s gates for ceasefire talks, residents took the opportunity to flee Bangui in overloaded cars and boats, or to stockpile food and water.
Scores of wooden boats piled high with baggage and people crossed the Oubangui River toward Democratic Republic of Congo, while the main road south — away from rebel lines — was choked with overloaded vehicles, Reuters reported.
Those remaining said they were stockpiling supplies and praying international mediation efforts would convince the insurgents not to enter the city shooting.
“We are hoping that Bangui will not be attacked,” Eugenie Bosso, a woman running a market stall, told Reuters.
American officials said about 40 people were evacuated on an U.S. air force plane bound for Kenya. The officials spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the details of the operation.
The evacuation came after President François Bozize called on former colonial ruler France and other foreign powers to help his government fend off rebels who are quickly seizing territory and approaching the capital.
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 toward the city of Bangui,” the statement said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was working to provide displaced people with water, sanitary facilities, and other necessities, and called on rebel and government forces to spare civilians. It said it had withdrawn eight staff for security reasons, but that 14 foreign staff remained in the country.
Central African Republic has a history of violent change in government. 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. Average income is barely $2 a day.
Speaking to crowds in Bangui, a city of about 600,000, Bozize pleaded with foreign powers to do what they could, and pointed in particular to France, Central African Republic’s former colonial ruler. About 200 French soldiers are already in the country, providing technical support and helping to train the local army, according to the French defence ministry.
“France has the means to stop (the rebels) but unfortunately they have done nothing for us until now,” Bozize said.
French President François Hollande has said France wants to protect its interests in Central African Republic, and not Bozize’s government. The comments came after 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.
In 2006, Paris defended Bozize’s government from a rebel advance using air strikes. But Hollande poured cold water on the latest request for help, saying,”those days are over.”
This landlocked nation of some 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 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.