Central African Republic rebel leader Michel Djotodia vowed to maintain a power-sharing government after his fighters ousted President Francois Bozize in clashes in which 13 South African soldiers were killed.
Djotodia, in remarks reported yesterday by Radio France Internationale after his Seleka rebels took control of the capital, Bangui, said he would keep Nicolas Tiangaye, a former opposition leader, as prime minister. The African Union suspended the Central African Republic today and said it will impose travel bans and an asset freeze on Djotodia and six other Seleka leaders.
“I don’t know how long I will remain in power,” RFI quoted Djotodia as saying. Within three years, “we will organize free and transparent elections.”
Bozize, 66, fled after the insurgents seized Bangui. He arrived yesterday in the Cameroonian border town of Kentzou, about 392 kilometers (243 miles) east of the capital, Yaounde, the governor of the East Region, Samuel Dieudonne Ivaha Diboua, said by telephone today.
He will remain in Cameroon temporarily “pending his departure to another country,” the secretary-general of the Cameroon Presidency, Ferdinand Ngoh, said in a statement handed to reporters in Yaounde.
The African Union’s Peace and Security Council, in an e-mailed statement from Addis Ababa, said member states should “completely isolate the perpetrators of the unconstitutional change in the CAR, to deny them sanctuary and cooperation.”
France condemned the takeover and sent troops to the country to protect its citizens. About 1,200 French nationals live in Bangui, Central African Republic’s consul to Gabon, Claude Ayo-Iguendha, said in an interview in the Gabonese capital, Libreville.
“France calls on the rebel forces to abstain from all violence toward civilian populations and foreign communities,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Philippe Lalliot said in an e-mailed statement. “Looting must cease and order must be rapidly restored.”
The Central African Republic has been plagued by violence since independence from France in 1960, with at least four battles for Bangui taking place from 1996 to 2003, when Bozize toppled predecessor Ange-Felix Patasse, whom he served as army chief. Seleka began its rebellion in December after accusing Bozize of failing to honor a 2008 peace accord. An agreement signed in Libreville in January ended the fighting. The rebels resumed combat last week after Bozize failed to meet a new set of demands.
South African President Jacob Zuma said 13 South African soldiers were killed in the fighting in Bangui and 27 were wounded. Clashes between 200 South African troops and about 1,000 rebels lasted nine hours, he told reporters today in Pretoria, the nation’s capital.
Soldiers from the Congo Republic, France, Gabon and South Africa were deployed in Central African Republic after the Libreville agreement was signed.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the “unconstitutional seizure of power” and said he was “deeply concerned by reports of serious violations of human rights.”
French President Francois Hollande boosted his country’s military presence in Bangui “to ensure, if necessary, the protection of French residents,” according to a statement yesterday from the president’s office in Paris. He urged “all parties to remain calm and for talks to take place around the government formed under the Libreville accord.”
Under that agreement, Bozize’s administration and the rebels agreed to form a government of national unity. Tiangaye was appointed prime minister, while Seleka was given five Cabinet posts, including the Defense Ministry.
The U.S. urged Seleka’s leadership to establish law and order and restore basic electric and water services. The U.S. also wants the rebels to recognize the legitimacy of the country’s power-sharing government and welcomed the continued engagement of regional leaders from Chad and the Congo Republic in negotiating a political solution, Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said in a statement.
“We are very concerned by the worsening humanitarian situation in CAR and credible, widespread reports of human rights abuses by both national security forces and Seleka fighters,” she said. “Perpetrators of such abuses must be held accountable.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross called for an end to fighting.
“We have observed scenes of looting,” Georgios Georgantas, head of the ICRC delegation in the Central African Republic, said in a statement. “We are calling on all parties to the conflict to spare civilians.”
Pangea Diamondfields Inc., an Isle of Man-based exploration company, owns a concession in Central African Republic that is currently on care and maintenance, according to the company’s website. Axmin Inc., a Canadian gold explorer, said Jan. 7 it delayed plans to open a mine in the country by at least a year because of the rebellion.
The country has a gross domestic product of about $3.6 billion and earns most of its foreign currency from timber and diamond exports, according to the CIA World Factbook.