News / Africa

CAR Leader Flees; Rebel Chief Declares Self President

FILE-Central African Republic rebel leader Michel Djotodia is met by journalists as he arrives ahead of planned peace talks with the Central African Republic's government, at the airport in Libreville, Gabon, January 7, 2013.
FILE-Central African Republic rebel leader Michel Djotodia is met by journalists as he arrives ahead of planned peace talks with the Central African Republic's government, at the airport in Libreville, Gabon, January 7, 2013.
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VOA News
The ousted president of the Central African Republic has fled to Cameroon, as rebels who overthrew him named a new head of state and pledged to hold elections within three years.

Officials in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, confirmed that CAR President Francois Bozize arrived there after fleeing the fighting that left 13 South African soldiers dead.

Michel Djotodia, the head of the Seleka rebel coalition, named himself the new CAR leader and says elections will take place within three years. Civilian opposition leader Nicolas Tiangaye will retain the prime minister's post he was given in a January power sharing deal.  

Residents in the capital, Bangui, say there is widespread looting in the city by both rebels and civilians. Residents have also been without power or running water for several days.

The United Nations says it is evacuating all its non-essential workers from the city.

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma says at least 27 soldiers were wounded in the fighting and one soldier is missing.

"Just over 200 of them fought bandits numbering more than 1,000 people," said Zuma. "They fought a high tempo battle for nine hours defending the South African military base."

A U.N. official in Bangui, Amy Martin, tells VOA that basic services such as security and water are needed for the United Nations to be able to resume its work.

"All of the U.N. offices, all our stores, warehousing, whatever, have been looted," said Martin. "There is very little left. When people loot ... it has been looted not once but by several different groups that have come through."

The medical aid group, Doctors Without Borders, says its facilities in Bangui have also been looted. It called on all parties in the conflict to respect health facilities and medical workers.

In another development Monday, French troops patrolling the international airport in Bangui killed two Indian citizens when several vehicles tried to enter the facility. Further details about the shooting were not immediately available.

Following the rebel takeover of Bangui, the African Union suspended CAR's membership and ordered sanctions against the rebel leaders.

The United States on Monday condemned the ousting of President Bozize, but stopped short of calling for him to be reinstated.

France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud says CAR must find a way back to constitutional order as soon as possible.

"The situation is obviously a source of concern," said Araud. "Yesterday night there was plundering and violence in Bangui. The question is how to go back to a constitutional order, which means how to go to elections as soon as possible."

Araud says 300 French soldiers are heading to the country to assist the 600 troops currently in the CAR.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned what he called an "unconstitutional seizing of power" by the rebels, and urged a "swift restoration of constitutional order."

Ban says he is deeply concerned about reports of human rights abuses and looting in Bangui, "including of United Nations property."  

He said an agreement between the government and the rebels signed in January remains the best way to ensure peace and security.  That deal calls for Bozize to remain in power until his term ends in 2016, with an opposition member named prime minister.

The rebels, who began their offensive in December, accuse the president of breaking the agreement.

Bozize has led CAR since taking power in a 2003 coup.  CAR has a history of coups and unrest since winning independence from France in 1960.

Seleka political spokesman Eric Massi told VOA that President Bozize had to leave CAR to bring peace.

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