Residents flee Bangui as rebels pause for talks

Fri Dec 28, 2012 11:51am EST
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By Paul-Marin Ngoupana

BANGUI (Reuters) - Residents of Central African Republic's riverside capital Bangui fled in overloaded cars and boats on Friday or stockpiled food and water as rebel forces paused at the city gates for ceasefire talks.

An insurgency has swept across much of the poverty-stricken but resource-rich former French colony since December 10, posing the biggest threat yet to President Francois Bozize's nearly 10 years in power and threatening a humanitarian crisis.

The government on Thursday urged Western powers France and the United States to help push back the rebels, though Paris said it would not use soldiers to defend Bozize's government and Washington evacuated its embassy.

The Central African Republic is one of a number of nations in the region where U.S. Special Forces are helping local forces try to track down the Lords Resistance Army, a rebel group responsible for killing thousands of civilians across four African nations.

"Our last chance, our only chance, is dialogue with the rebels," bus driver Jerome Lega said as he weaved through traffic in the centre of Bangui.

Scores of wooden boats piled high with baggage and people crossed the Oubangui River toward Democratic Republic of Congo on the other side, while the main road south away from rebel lines was choked with overloaded vehicles.

Those remaining said they were stockpiling food and water and praying international mediation efforts would convince the insurgents not to enter the city shooting.

"We are hoping that Bangui will not be attacked," said Eugenie Bosso, a woman running a market stall.   Continued...

A soldier smiles as women march to protest against the conflict in their country in the streets of Bangui December 28, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer