Courtesy of (Associated Press) by Kirubel Tadesse
BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) - Rebels in the Central African Republic on Monday rejected appeals for them to halt their advances and to negotiate to form a coalition government.
The rebels had been urged Sunday by the visiting leader of the African Union and by President Francois Bozize to stop seizing cities and preparing to attack the capital, Bangui. The Seleka rebels have taken 10 cities in Central African Republic's north in the past three weeks and have moved within striking distance of the capital, Bangui, a city of 600,000.
AU president Thomas Boni Yayi, who is the president of Benin, called on the rebels to enter into negotiations with the aim of forming a government of national unity. Bozize also appealed to the Seleka rebels to halt their advances and said he would agree to bring them into the government.
But the rebels on Monday said they did not trust Bozize's offer.
"We are not convinced of the commitments made ??by President Bozize," said rebel spokesman Juma Narkoyo when reached by telephone. "Bozize has always spoken, but he never keeps his word."
The rebels - who call themselves Seleka which means alliance in the local Sango language - said they would enter negotiations "only if the head of state releases all our relatives they have arrested without reason." The rebels claim that Bozize has abducted more than a dozen of their family members. They warned if Bozize uses foreign troops to protect his government, they may continue their campaign toward the capital.
In response the rebels were told by the African Union that if they seize power they will face sanctions and Central African Republic will be suspended from the organization.
The African Union rejects any attempt to seize power forcefully, said chairwoman of the AU Commission Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma on Monday. Any attempt to seize power unconstitutionally will result in sanctions against the perpetrators and their total isolation, Zuma said at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
Zuma urged the rebels to immediately end to their military offensive and to commit to dialogue with the view to finding a lasting solution to the recurring instability experienced in the country.
French President Francois Hollande Monday welcomed the efforts by the AU and the group of neighboring states to find a negotiated solution. Hollande called for "opening a dialogue between CAR authorities and all the parties present, including the rebellion." Hollande last week said his government would only protect French interests in CAR, but would not prop up the Bozize government.
Central African Republic has suffered many army revolts, coups and rebellions since gaining independence from France in 1960.
The rebels behind the current instability signed a 2007 peace accord allowing them to join the regular army, but insurgent leaders say the deal wasn't fully implemented.
The rebels have made a rapid advance across the country's north and residents in the capital, Bangui, now fear the insurgents could attack at any time, as the rebels' new remarks contradict earlier earlier assurances that they are willing to engage in dialogue instead of attacking the city.
On Saturday the rebels seized the city of Sibut, 185 kilometers (114 miles) from Bangui. Sibut, a key transportation hub, fell without a shot being fired because the Central African Republic army and forces from neighboring Chad had pulled back to Damara, 75 kilometers (46 miles) from Bangui on Friday, said Minister of Territorial Administration Josie Binoua.
Neighboring African countries have agreed to send more forces to support the Bozize government.
Representatives from the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States, or ECCAS, agreed at a meeting in Gabon Friday to send forces to CAR, but did not did not specify how many troops would be sent or how quickly the military assistance would arrive.
The ECCAS states, with more than 500 soldiers via their regional peacekeeping force in Central Africa, over the weekend warned the rebels to halt their advances.
The neighboring Republic of Congo sent 120 troops from Brazzaville Monday to bolster the regional force, according to a New Year's statement from Congo president Denis Sassou Nguesso.
The ongoing instability prompted the United States to evacuate about 40 people, including the U.S. ambassador, from Bangui 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 forces troops 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 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 after 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.
China announced Mondaythat it is evacuating its 300 citizens from CAR, although its embassy staff will stay.
French diplomats have remained in Bangui despite a violent demonstration outside its embassy last week. Dozens of protesters, angry at France's lack of help against rebel forces, threw rocks at the French Embassy in Bangui and stole a French flag.
CAR is a landlocked nation of 4.4 million people is 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.
Despite Central African Republic's wealth of gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, the government remains perpetually cash-strapped.
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