, Central African Republic , Dec 29 – Government soldiers in the Central African Republic battled to re-capture a rebel-held city, a military official said, despite regional efforts to seek a peaceful end to the growing crisis.
The military official said the fighting in Bambari, which rebels from the Seleka coalition seized Sunday, was “especially violent”, and a humanitarian source said witnesses some 60 kilometres (35 miles) away could hear detonations and heavy weapons fire for several hours.
The new violence came the same day as the Central African Republic’s neighbours took steps to tackle the crisis in the chronically unstable nation, where rebels have advanced towards the capital Bangui, stoking local and international alarm.
Foreign ministers in the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) announced late Friday that more troops of the Central African Multinational Force (FOMAC) would be sent to the country.
“Five hundred and sixty men are already on the ground, and we agreed to a request by the ECCAS general secretariat to increase their numbers and allow them to accomplish their mission as a rapid deployment force”, as Seleka rebels threaten the capital, Chad’s Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat said after a meeting in the Gabonese capital Libreville, which is seen as a potential venue for peace talks.
The international force is “to deploy so Bangui and all cities that have not been captured (by the rebels) so far cannot be targeted by the rebels”, added Gabon’s Foreign Minister Emmanuel Issoze Ngondet.
ECCAS deputy secretary general Guy-Pierre Garcia said earlier that the rebels and the Central African government had agreed to unconditional talks.
“The goal is to get to negotiations (between the government and the rebels) by January 10,” a source in the Central African Multinational Force told AFP.
Central African (CAR) President Francois Bozize’s appeals for help from former colonial power France and from the United States have fallen on deaf ears.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Friday that France had no intention of getting involved in the crisis, and would only intervene to protect its own nationals there.
The French defence ministry said late Friday that 150 troops had arrived in Bangui from Libreville as a “precautionary measure” to protect French and European nationals.
Fears about the deteriorating security situation have seen Washington evacuate its embassy in Bangui and the United Nations pull out staff. The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday that it too had evacuated some workers, though it stressed it would continue to provide aid to the growing number of displaced people.
A diplomatic team from FOMAC has begun talks with authorities in Bangui and sent a delegation to the rebel-held strategic town of Ndele in the north to meet members of the rebel coalition Seleka, which launched its offensive on December 10.