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Central African Republic calls for US and French help

The Central African Republic's president has called for foreign help against rebels moving towards the capital. His calls are falling on deaf ears.

Besieged Central African Republic President Francois Bozize has called on the United States and France to help push back rebels advancing towards the capital, Bagui.

Speaking at a rally in the capital, Bozize said: "We are asking our cousins the French and the United States, which are major powers, to help us push back the rebels to their initial positions in a way that will permit talks in Libreville to resolve this crisis."

His request came a day after Reuters news agency quoted sources saying the Seleka rebel coalition were only 75km from the capital. However, neither France nor the US has responded positively to the president's call.

French President Francois Hollande ruled out any military involvement in the CAR. Speaking to reporters at a Paris food market on Thursday, he said: "If we have a presence, it's not to protect a regime, it's to protect our nationals and our interests and in no way to intervene in the internal business of a country, in this case the Central African Republic," Hollande said. "Those days are over," he added.

French colonial days 'are over'

Thirty French troops did go to protect the French embassy in Bangui when a rally of hundreds of government supporters calling on the French to intervene against the rebels turned violent on Wednesday. Windows were broken and the French flag torn down. "This situation is completely unacceptable," said French ambassador Serge Mucetti.

Bozize apologized for the attack on the French embassy.

Former colonial power France has 250 soldiers based at Bangui airport providing technical support to an Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) peacekeeping mission.

Head of the mission, Nassour Ouaidou, speaking from Gabon's capital Libreville, said: "The ECCAS is in the middle of sending a team on the ground to try and get a ceasefire from one side and the other."

US and UN concern

Washington, meanwhile, expressed "deep concern" over the deteriorating situation on Thursday and warned all Americans to leave the country "until the security situation improved." State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the US had "authorized the departure of family members and non-emergency personnel from our Embassy in Bangui as a result of increased rebel activity in the north central part of the country."

With the Bozize government now limited to the capital, troops sent from neighboring Chad last week are the only defense the president has against the rebels.

The Seleka rebel coalition is made up rebels who accuse Bozize of failing to live up to the terms of peace accords signed between 2007 and 2011. Under the agreement, rebels who laid down their arms were supposed to be given financial rewards. The rebels have said they will depose Mr Bozize unless he negotiates with them.

The United Nations on Wednesday ordered more than 200 non-essential staff and families of other workers to leave. UN envoy in the CAR, Margaret Vogta, said residents are "petrified as to what could happen."

jm/ccp (AFP, Reuters)