Central African Republic appeals for French help against rebels, Paris balks

Thu Dec 27, 2012 10:07am EST
 
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By Paul-Marin Ngoupana

BANGUI (Reuters) - The president of the Central African Republic appealed on Thursday for France and the United States to help push back rebels threatening his government and the capital, but Paris said its troops were only ready to protect French nationals.

The exchanges came as regional African leaders tried to broker a ceasefire deal and as rebels said they had temporarily halted their advance on Bangui, the capital, to allow talks to take place.

Insurgents on motorbikes and in pickup trucks have driven to within 75 km (45 miles) of Bangui after weeks of fighting, threatening to end President Francois Bozize's nearly 10-year-stint in charge of the turbulent, resource-rich country.

French nuclear energy group Areva mines the Bakouma uranium deposit in the CAR's south - France's biggest commercial interest in its former colony.

The rebel advance has highlighted the instability of a country that has remained poor since independence from Paris in 1960 despite rich deposits of uranium, gold and diamonds. Average income is barely over $2 a day.

Bozize on Thursday appealed for French and U.S. military support to stop the SELEKA rebel coalition, which has promised to overthrow him unless he implements a previous peace deal in full.

He told a crowd of anti-rebel protesters in the riverside capital that he had asked Paris and Washington to help move the rebels away from the capital to clear the way for peace talks which regional leaders say could be held soon in Libreville, Gabon.

"We are asking our cousins the French and the United States, which are major powers, to help us push back the rebels to their initial positions in a way that will permit talks in Libreville to resolve this crisis," Bozize said.   Continued...

 
Residents of Central African Republic participate in a protest near of the French Embassy in the capital Bangui, December 26, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer