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Central Africa asks for international help to repel rebels

posted 27 Dec 2012, 09:11 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 27 Dec 2012, 09:12 ]

The president of the Central African Republic appeals to France and the United Statesfor help to push back rebels threatening his government and the capital but is rebuffed by Paris.

BANGUICENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) (DECEMBER 26, 2012) (REUTERS) - France said on Thursday (December 27) it would only protect French nationals in the Central African Republic (CAR) after the president appealed to Paris and Washington for help to push back rebels.

Regional African leaders are trying to broker a ceasefire deal between rebels threatening the CAR government and the capital Bangui where protesters attacked theFrench embassy on December 26.

Rebels said on Thursday they had temporarily halted their advance on Bangui to allow talks to take place.

Insurgents on motorbikes and in pickup trucks have driven to within 75 km (45 miles) ofBangui after weeks of fighting, threatening to end President Francois Bozize's nearly 10-year-stint in charge of the turbulent, resource-rich country.

French nuclear energy group Areva mines the Bakouma uranium deposit in the CAR's south - France's biggest commercial interest in its former colony.

The rebel advance has highlighted the instability of a country that has remained poor since independence from Paris in 1960 despite rich deposits of uranium, gold and diamonds. Average income is barely over 2 US dollars a day.

Bozize on Thursday appealed for French and U.S. military support to stop the SELEKA rebel coalition, which has promised to overthrow him unless he implements a previous peace deal in full.

He told a crowd of anti-rebel protesters in the riverside capital that he had asked Parisand Washington to help move the rebels away from the capital to clear the way for peace talks which regional leaders say could be held soon in LibrevilleGabon.

France has 250 soldiers in its landlocked former colony as part of a peacekeeping mission and Paris in the past has ousted or propped up governments - including by using air strikes to defend Bozize against rebels in 2006.

But French President Francois Hollande poured cold water on the latest request for help saying their presence in the region was not to protect the regime but to protect nationals and French interests and that Paris would "in no way intervene in the internal business of a country, in this case the Central African Republic". The socialist president added: "Those days are over".

Some 1,200 French nationals live in the CAR, mostly in the capital, according to theFrench Foreign Ministry, where they typically work for mining firms or aid groups.