- U.S. Embassy suspends operations in the capital
- There are indications the rebels may try to take Bangui
- France has troops there, but says its mission is to protect its citizens
- Central African Republic leader seeks international help
The president of the Central African Republic asked Thursday for help from other nations to stave off rebel advances that threaten his rule.
The former French colony asked France and the United States to help ensure "the rebels return home...instead of destroying and killing Central Africans," President Francois Bozize said.
"Fellow citizens, the time has come," Bozize said. The rebels "want to steal our country and we want to do (something) about it."
Amid indications that the rebels may try to take the capital, Bangui, the United Nations began relocating dependents and nonessential staff.
The U.S. Embassy in Bangui suspended operations Friday "as a result of the deteriorating security situation," the State Department said in a statement. "U.S. citizens who have decided to stay in CAR should review their personal security situation and seriously consider departing, taking advantage of commercial flights," it said.
Attacks on several cities by the coalition of rebel groups known as "Seleka" undermine peace agreements in the Central African Republic; rebels say they are fighting because the government has broken promises.
The rebels were located about 190 miles from Bangui; no new attacks had been reported since Wednesday, diplomatic adviser Honore Nzessiwe said Thursday.
The Central African Republic government is seeking negotiations with the rebels in Libreville, Gabon, he said. In the meantime, troops from the Central African Multinational Forces were expected to arrive to bolster security in the capital, he said.
Bozize directed his call for help to France, saying "the French are our cousins. They should fix what is happening."
France has a permanent presence of 200 to 300 military personnel at Bangui's airport under the mandate of the Economic Community of Central African States.
But French President Francois Hollande said Thursday that the troops are not intended to "protect a regime" against the advance of the rebels, but instead French nationals and interests.
France will "in no way to interfere in the internal affairs of a country, in this case, CAR," Hollande said, adding: "That time is over."
Asked about a possible intervention in favor of displaced persons or refugees, the French president said that his country could not "intervene unless there is a U.N. mandate," and noted that "this is not the case."
"But in general, we are always for civilians to be protected and preserved, and we will do our duty again," he said.
Bozize spoke Thursday with the French foreign minister about the crisis.
The French asked the Central African Republic leader to protect foreign nationals in his country. A day earlier, hundreds of protesters massed outside the French Embassy and called for intervention in Bangui; people threw stones and pipes at the building.
On Thursday, protesters gathered in front of a U.N. building in the capital.
That was where Bozize made his remarks asking for foreign help, said Margaret Vogt, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general.
The president "addressed the crowd telling them he is ready for a dialogue," she said.
The desire for negotiation was reiterated in a statement released on behalf of Bozize by the Central African Republic Foreign Ministry. It said Bozize has no intention to tinker with the constitution in order to remain in power, and wants to work within the framework of the document to negotiate a solution.
The Central African Republic came into being after the French colony known as Ubangi-Shari gained independence in 1960.