French President Francois Hollande says France has a presence in the Central African Republic to protect its interests and nationals, not to intervene in the country's business.
Hollande spoke Thursday, a day after protesters critical of France's inaction during a rebel advance in the C.A.R. threw stones at the French embassy in the capital, Bangui, and tore down the country's flag. "Generally speaking, if we are there [in C.A.R.], it's not to protect a regime but to protect our citizens and our interests, and not at all to interfere in domestic matters of a country, as it happens, Central African Republic," he said. "This time is over."
A rebel coalition called Seleka has captured about 10 towns since launching an offensive two weeks ago. They have threatened to topple C.A.R. President Francois Bozize, whom they accuse of failing to implement a 2007 peace accord that ended an earlier rebellion.
The rebel spokesman told VOA that the alliance has no backing from France nor any neighboring country.
The C.A.R. gained independence from France in 1960. France has about 250 troops in Central African Republic supporting a peacekeeping mission.
Asked whether France would intervene to help refugees, Hollande said action would only come under United Nations authorization. "We can take action if there is a mandate of the United Nations, which is not the case, but generally speaking, we are doing our best to see the civil population protected," stated Hollande. "And preserved so once again, we will do out duty."
The United Nations has relocated its non-essential staff in the country, while the U.S. embassy suspended its normal operations until further notice because of increasing insecurity.