CAR leader flees as rebels seize capital
25 March 2013, 12:05
Bangui - Central African rebels seized control of the
capital Bangui as the president fled, but promised to respect a January peace
deal that provides for elections within three years.
Looters and armed gangs roamed the streets of the city and
there were casualties as South African troops clashed with the rebels.
But after the fighters from the Seleka rebel coalition
occupied the presidential palace on Sunday they declared victory.
Seleka coalition leader Michel Djotodia told Radio France
Internationale (RFI) they would respect the terms of a peace deal signed with
the regime of Francois Bozize, the president they have just overthrown.
Opposition figure Nicolas Tiangaye, appointed prime minister
of a national unity government formed as part of that deal, would remain in the
"I met Mr Tiangaye. We have spoken with him," said
They would also hold free and fair elections within three
years, as set out in the deal, he added. And he had not ruled out keeping some
ministers from Bozize's clan in the government.
"We are not here to carry out a witch-hunt," said
The UN chief Ban Ki-moon condemned their seizure of power,
calling for "the swift restoration of constitutional order",
according to a statement from his office.
Rebel fighters resumed hostilities last week in the former
French colony after they accused Bozize of reneging on the terms of the latest
Bozize’s whereabouts a mystery
They moved into the capital overnight on Saturday and on Sunday
clashed with South African troops stationed there. South African Brigadier
General Xolani Mabanga told the SAPA news agency there had been casualties, but
he was unable to provide any figures.
The South Africans had been posted in Bangui to support the
poorly trained, ill-equipped government troops.
Armed men roamed the city on Sunday, looting homes, shops,
restaurants and offices - including the premises of the UN children's agency Unicef,
which Ban also condemned in his statement.
"They break down the doors and loot and then,
afterwards, the people come and help themselves too," said Nicaise
Kabissou, who lives in a central district. Electricity supplies had been cut
earlier in the weekend.
The International Committee of the Red Cross reported that
injured people were flooding hospitals and medical centres in Bangui and
requested secure access to the capital.
The whereabouts of Bozize, who himself seized power in a
coup in 2003, remained a mystery.
One well-placed source told AFP he had left the country in a
helicopter, but did not disclose his destination. French Foreign Minister
Laurent Fabius confirmed only that he had fled Bangui.
Reports of human rights abuses
Earlier on Sunday, French President Francois Hollande had
called on all parties in the conflict to form a government in accordance with
the January peace deal. He also called on "the armed groups to respect the
That call was echoed by the United States, which also
expressed deep concern over "widespread reports of human rights
abuses" by both sides.
Ban said he was "deeply concerned" by reports of
violations of human rights. Those responsible would be held accountable, he
As the rebel forces arrived on the outskirts of Bangui on
Saturday, France sent an extra 300 troops to back up the 250 soldiers already there
to protect an estimated 1 250 French nationals.
January's deal had already brought several prominent figures
from Seleka, a loose alliance of three rebel movements, into the government.
But the agreement collapsed after the rebels said their
demands, which included the release of people they described as political
prisoners, had not been met.
Seleka first launched its offensive in the north on December
10, accusing Bozize of having failed to honour an earlier peace agreement.
They swept south, seizing a string of towns along the way
and defying the UN calls to stop before halting within striking distance of
Bangui before agreeing to talks that resulted in the January peace deal.
Bozize's legacy after a decade in power is a country riddled
with corruption and mired in poverty, despite abundant natural resources that
include uranium, gold, oil and diamonds.
The state, which has a population of about 4.5 million, has
been unstable since its independence from France in 1960.
It endured a notoriously brutal period under self-declared
emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who was overthrown in 1979 in a French-backed coup.