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Deposed Central African Republic President François Bozizé Takes Refuge in Cameroon after Seleka Rebels Seize Bangui

March 25, 2013 by Brett Wilkins in Africa, War with 0 Comments

The deposed president of the Central African Republic, who fled the capital Bangui as rebels seized control of the presidential palace on Saturday, has taken refuge in neighboring Cameroon.

The New York Times reports that François Bozizé fled west into Cameroon, where the 66-year-old will remain temporarily until finding a more permanent refuge, according to a statement broadcast on state radio by Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, the Secretary General of the Cameroonian Presidency.

“Following the recent events in the Central African Republic (CAR), President François Bozizé sought refuge in Cameroon, where he is currently awaiting his departure to another host country,” Ngoh Ngoh said during the Monday radio statement.

Bozizé, an army general who himself seized control over the mineral-rich yet impoverished nation of 4.4 million people in a 2003 coup, fled as rebels advanced on Bangui. The rebels, who call themselves Seleka– which means “alliance” in the Songo language, are a coalition of armed groups, some of which helped Bozizé carry out his 2003 coup, that are disaffected with his rule. These groups signed separate peace deals with Bozizé in 2007 and 2011, in which the regime promised cash payments and the release of political prisoners in exchange for laying down arms. Seleka accuses the government of reneging on the deals.

Bozizé, who had appealed to France and the United States for help, relied upon troops from its northern neighbor Chad to hold off the steady rebel advance. But neither the Chadians, nor a deployment of regional peacekeepers and 200 South African troops, could keep the rebels from taking the capital. According to Al Jazeera, 13 South African troops were killed, with another 27 wounded, in intense fighting in CAR since Saturday.

“We are deeply saddened by the events and developments in [CAR] over the past 72 hours which saw violence escalating and many innocent lives lost,” South African President Jacob Zuma said on Monday.

France also has several hundred troops deployed in CAR. Some 250 personnel had already been in-country, with an additional 150 troops sent to Bangui to secure the international airport there, according to French diplomatic sources. But the French troops are not there to intervene in the conflict, only to “protect [French] citizens and interests,” according to French President François Hollande. France ruled CAR as a colony until the nation gained its independence in 1960.

As Bangui fell to the Seleka rebels, the city was gripped by chaos and looting. Local witnesses reported gunfire and looting throughout many parts of the capital.

“The situation is rather precarious; most residents are in their homes because everything has pretty much been looted,” Amy Martin, Bangui bureau chief for the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs, told Al Jazeera. Martin said the looting was being committed by “a combination of armed elements” as well as local residents targeting the homes of diplomats.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement saying he was “deeply concerned by reports of serious violations of human rights,” vowing that those “responsible for committing such violations will be held accountable.” The UN chief called for “the swift restoration of constitutional order” in war-torn CAR.

CAR is rich in gold, diamonds, uranium and other valuable natural resources. But a combination of the legacy of colonial oppression, gross mismanagement by successive ruling regimes and foreign economic exploitation have resulted in a nation with a per capital gross domestic product of about $800, making CAR among the 10 poorest countries in the world.

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