The U.S. embassy in the Central African Republic suspended operations as the country’s government prepared for negotiations with rebels that have overtaken at least 10 towns this month.
Ambassador Laurence Wohlers and his diplomatic team left the country yesterday, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement on its website. A warning was also issued to U.S. citizens against all travel in the country, where the government is trying to fend off attacks by the insurgent groups that accuse President Francois Bozize of failing to implement a peace accord.
Rebel forces want the terms of the four-year-old, so-called Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement re-negotiated and oppose plans by Bozize to seek a third term in office. Talks between representatives of the fighters and the CAR government may be held today after Foreign Affairs Minister Antoine Gambi arrived in Gabon, Claude Ayo Iguendha, the CAR consul in the country, said by phone today.
“The Central African Republic government is more than ever open to dialog and responds to the will of the rebels to negotiate,” Iguendha said.
Nassour Ouaidou, secretary-general of the Economic Community of Central African States, said there was no reason for panic because the rebels have pledged to not invade the capital, Bangui, Radio France Internationale reported today.
The U.S. isn’t suspending diplomatic relations with the country, Ventrell said in the State Department statement.
“This decision is solely due to concerns about the security of our personnel and has no relation to our continuing and long-standing diplomatic relations with the CAR,” he said.
The State Department has said it is increasing attention to security at U.S. embassies in the aftermath of security shortcomings highlighted by the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
France announced Dec. 26 that it was sending some of the 250 soldiers it has based at the airport in Bangui to secure the French embassy after it was attacked by protesters. The U.S. embassy also is in Bangui.
About 2,000 pro-government demonstrators attacked the French embassy to protest what they said is France’s passivity against Seleka rebels that have taken over much of the Central African Republic, according to Agence France-Presse.
Central African Republic was the world’s 12th-largest producer of rough diamonds by value in 2010, when output was 250,000 carats, according to data on the U.S. Geological Survey’s website. A carat is equal to a fifth of a gram. The country also produces gold and has undeveloped resources of copper, iron, manganese and uranium, the USGS said.