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UN condemns Central African Republic fighting

The UN secretary-general has condemned the "unconstitutional seizure of power" in Central African Republic. France has sent troops to protect national interests in CAR as rebels take control of the capital.

Rebels in Central African Republic, a nation of 4.5 million people, seized the riverside capital, Bangui, in fighting on Sunday, forcing President Francois Bozize to flee. According to reports, Bozize has fled to neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The secretary-general is deeply concerned by reports of serious violations of human rights," read a UN statement on behalf of Ban Ki-moon. "He underscores that those who are responsible for committing such violations will be held accountable."

Armed groups that had long opposed Bozize joined forces in December and began seizing towns across the country's north. After a January peace deal, the rebel coalition known as Seleka resumed hostilities on Thursday in the former French colony and quickly swept south to Bangui with the aim of ousting Bozize, whom it accused of breaking the agreement to integrate dissident fighters into the army. The rebels seized control of Bangui, but they promised to respect a provision of the  deal that provides for elections within three years.

"The rebels control the town," presidential spokesman Gaston Mackouzangba said. "I hope there will not be any reprisals."

'Dire humanitarian situation'

"The secretary-general appeals for calm and for the respect of the rule of law in the CAR," the dispatch from the UN read. "He is concerned by the dire humanitarian situation in the country and the reports of ongoing looting in the capital, Bangui, including of United Nations property."

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Rebels storm capital

Witnesses reported explosions in Bangui, and one rebel commander told the AFP news agency that the presidential palace had been taken. The rebel fighters had moved into the capital overnight on Saturday, and on Sunday clashed with South African troops stationed there to support Central African Republic's relatively weak official army. South African Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga told the SAPA news agency there had been casualties, but he was unable to provide any figures.

"Central African Republic has just opened a new page in its history," read a communique from Seleka leader Justin Kombo Moustapha. "The political committee of the Seleka coalition, made up of Central Africans of all kinds, calls on the population to remain calm and to prepare to welcome the revolutionary forces of Seleka," the communique read.

French scramble

France announced that it was deploying 350 soldiers to ensure the security of nationals and other foreigners after rebels took over the capital city. The contingent arrived in the country on Saturday, with the rest dispatched on Sunday, and moved early to secure the airport.

President Francois Hollande called on all parties to observe the January peace deal. He also called on "the armed groups to respect the population".

The United Nations announced it would take precautions to protect staff and reminded authorities of "obligations to ensure the safety of all United Nations personnel and premises."

mkg/jr (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)

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