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Amid unrest, African Union chief arrives in Central African Republic

By Nana Karikari-apau, CNN
December 31, 2012 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi meets with the Central African Republic's president
  • NEW: France deploys 180 troops into the inland African nation's capital to protect French citizens there
  • 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

(CNN) -- The head of the African Union arrived in the Central African Republic Sunday as tensions mounted between the government and rebels there, an official said.

Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi, who chairs the regional body, met with the Central African Republic's president, said Margaret Vogt, a U.N. special representative.

The talks come amid lingering unrest in the inland African nation.

Rebels, angry with the government, have staged attacks in recent days. And the volatile situation has spurred demonstrations in Bangui, the country's capital and largest city.

Government authorities set an 8 p.m. (2 p.m. ET) curfew Sunday, said Josue Binoua, the minister of territorial administration and decentralization.

Rebels and government officials are scheduled to meet early this week for talks in Gabon, on Africa's western coast, Binoua said. He did not specify the date when the discussions would begin.

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

Amid fears of more violence, officials from various nations take steps to protect their citizens and interests in the Central African Republic.

France deployed 180 troops from Gabon to Bangui overnight to protect French citizens in the Central African Republic's capital, said Col. Thierry Burkhard, a spokesman for France's defense ministry.

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."

Read more: Central African Republic president seeks helps against rebels

Rebels were reported earlier last week to be about 190 miles from Bangui. But there's been a lull in rebel attacks in recent days.

Demonstrators in Bangui have urged foreign intervention to stop rebels from entering the city.

The 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."

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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