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Central African Republic government officials, rebels to hold talks amid unrest

By Nana Karikari-apau, CNN
December 30, 2012 -- Updated 1004 GMT (1804 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: About 50 U.S. troops have been deployed to help evacuate citizens, Obama says
  • Rebels, angry with the government, have staged attacks in recent days
  • The C.A.R. president has urged international intervention to stave off rebel advances
  • The two sides will talk next week in Gabon, a government minister says

(CNN) -- Central African Republic rebels and government officials will meet early next week for talks, a minister said Saturday, after a spate of violence that has left the fate of the inland African nation in limbo.

The upcoming discussions will be in Gabon, on Africa's western coast, said the Central African Republic's Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization Josue Binoua. He did not specify the date when the discussions would begin.

Central African Republic diplomatic adviser Honore Nzessiwe had indicated Thursday that the government was then trying to arrange a meeting with rebel leaders in Libreville, Gabon.

The development comes as officials from various nations take steps to protect their citizens and interests in the Central African Republic, amid fears of more violence.

U.S. President Barack Obama wrote a letter Saturday to Congress informing them that about 50 U.S. troops were sent to Chad on Thursday "to support the evacuation of U.S. embassy personnel and U.S. citizens from the Central African Republic."

"Although equipped for combat, this stand-by security force was deployed solely for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary," Obama wrote.

The rebels were reported earlier this week to be about 190 miles from Bangui. But there's been a lull in rebel attacks in recent days, which Margaret Vogt, a special representative of the U.N. secretary-general, said might be evidence that they are respecting an earlier promise to halt their advance on the capital.

The volatile situation -- which has spurred demonstrations in Bangui, the country's capital and largest city, urging foreign intervention amid concerns rebels could soon enter the city -- prompted government authorities to set an 8 p.m. (2 p.m. ET) curfew Sunday, Binoua said.

Already, the lingering unrest has prompted the United Nations to relocate dependents and nonessential staff from the country and the U.S. Embassy in Bangui to shut down operations. The U.S. State Department said Thursday -- the same day U.S. troops were sent to Chad -- its ambassador and diplomatic team left the capital, but that the United States is not cutting off diplomatic relations with the turbulent African nation.

Read more: U.S. diplomats leave Central African Republic

President Francois Bozize on Thursday asked for other nations' help in staving off rebel advances that threaten his rule.

Bozize specifically called on France -- which ruled his country, then as a colony known as Ubangi-Shari, until it gained independence in 1960 -- and the United States to help ensure "the rebels return home ... instead of destroying and killing Central Africans."

U.N. efforts have focused on calling for a disarmament process, but a lack of funding from the European Union meant such a program could not be carried out in the country's northeast, where there is fighting, Vogt said.

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, and French President Francois Hollande ordered them to safeguard his nation's embassy earlier this week.

But Hollande said Thursday that his nation's troops are not there to "protect a regime," but instead protect French nationals and interests. France will not "interfere in the internal affairs of a country, in this case, CAR," Hollande said, adding, "That time is over."

Read more: CNN Inside Africa

CNN's Bharati Naik, Stephanie Halasz and Saskya Vandoorne contributed to this report.

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