JOHANNESBURG – The president of the Central African Republic fled the country for Cameroon after rebels overran the capital of the impoverished nation long wracked by rebellions.
South Africa said Monday that 13 of its soldiers were killed in fighting with rebels, prompting criticism about why its forces had intervened in such a volatile conflict.
Ousted President Francois Bozize sought “temporary” refuge on its territory, the Cameroonian government confirmed Monday.
Central African Republic’s new leadership appeared fragmented, with a split emerging in the rebel coalition that seized the capital.
The African Union on Monday imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on seven leaders of the rebel coalition, known as Seleka, and said their advance had undermined prospects for a lasting solution to the crisis in the landlocked country. It urged African states to deny “any sanctuary and cooperation” to the rebel chiefs.
The United States is “deeply concerned about a serious deterioration in the security situation” in Central African Republic, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement Sunday.
“We urgently call on the Seleka leadership, which has taken control of Bangui, to establish law and order in the city and to restore basic services of electricity and water,” the statement said.
The U.N. Security Council said in a statement that it “strongly condemned the recent attacks and the seizure of power by force in the Central African Republic” and “the ensuing violence and looting.” It also denounced the violence that led to the South African casualties.
The Security Council “called on all parties to refrain from any acts of violence against civilians, including foreign communities.”
The rebel groups making up the Seleka alliance agreed they wanted Bozize out. Some of the rebels complained of broken promises of government jobs and other benefits. Others cited the deep impoverishment of the country’s distant north despite the Central African Republic’s considerable wealth of gold, diamonds, timber and uranium.
In addition to the South African troop deaths, another 27 soldiers were wounded in the country’s worst loss in combat since nine soldiers died in Lesotho in 1998.