CAR rebels menace Bangui, urge talks

WAITING::The streets of Bangui were deserted on Saturday night after a curfew was imposed, and many shops were being guarded by men armed with machetes

AFP and AP, Bangui, LIBREVILLE and Washington

Mon, Dec 31, 2012 - Page 6

Rebel forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) advancing on Bangui have not ruled out entering the capital and are calling for talks on the departure of Central African Republic President Francois Bozize, a rebel spokesman said yesterday.

“Bozize intends to give battle in Bangui, and if the situation demands it, we will take action,” said Eric Massi, spokesman for the Seleka rebel coalition.

Massi also said Bozize’s departure should be part of expected talks with the African Union (AU) on the crisis.

AU chief Thomas Boni Yayi, president of Benin, was set to travel to Bangui yesterday to try to initiate talks between the government and rebels.

Tensions are high in Bangui as the rebels advance and the country’s armed forces have retreated to Damara, the last major town before the capital, about 75km away.

Also yesterday, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) which has troops in the CAR, warned both sides that Damara was the line not to cross.

“The ECCAS forces are on maximum alert, and the city of Damara is the line not to be crossed. We ask the FACA [government forces] and the rebels not to advance from their current positions and to give talks a chance,” Antonio Di Garcia, head of the ECCAS mission, said on national radio.

The streets of Bangui were deserted on Saturday night, after a curfew was imposed from 7pm to 5am. Many shops were being guarded by men armed with machetes.

“The bosses fear looting so they are paying guards,” said one guard.

In Bangui, food prices have soared, further spiking tensions and uncertainty.

“I’m afraid of the rebels coming,” said vegetable vendor Euphrasie Ngotanga in the city’s huge Sambo market. “We’re not going to sell our produce if there’s no peace. And then how we will feed our children?”

“We don’t eat properly any more,” said another vendor, Angele Bodero, with her baskets full of condiments before her. “Cassava has become more expensive, everything costs more,” she said, referring to the country’s staple food.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama said 50 US troops have deployed to the African country of Chad to help evacuate US citizens and embassy personnel from the neighboring CAR in the face of rebel advances.

Obama informed congressional leaders of Thursday’s deployment in a letter on Saturday citing a “deteriorating security situation” in the CAR.