ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Rebels advancing to the capital of the Central African Republic of will face sanctions and the country suspended from activities of the African Union if they seize power, an AU official warned Monday.
Chairwoman of the Commission of the AU Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said the AU rejects any attempt to seize power forcefully. Any attempt to seize power unconstitutionally will result in sanctions against the perpetrators and their total isolation, Zuma said.
Central African Republic President Francois Bozize said Sunday during a press conference after talks with the head of the AU, Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi, that he is not against forming a coalition government with the rebels.
Rebels accuse the president of kidnapping people suspected of supporting the rebels who have seized 10 cities in the country's north over the past three weeks.
The impoverished nation has suffered many army revolts, coups and rebellions since gaining independence in 1960.
Zuma urged CAR armed groups to put an immediate end to their military offensive and to commit to dialogue with the view to finding a lasting solution to the recurring instability experienced in the country.
The rebels behind the most recent instability signed a 2007 peace accord allowing them to join the regular army, but insurgent leaders say the deal wasn't fully implemented.
The rebels have made a rapid advance across the country's north and residents in the capital, Bangui, now fear the insurgents could attack at any time, despite assurances by rebel leaders that they are willing to engage in dialogue instead of attacking Bangui.
On Saturday the rebels seized the city of Sibut, 185 kilometers (114 miles) from Bangui. Sibut, a key transportation hub, fell without a shot being fired because the Central African Republic army and forces from neighboring Chad had pulled back to Damara, 75 kilometers (46 miles) from Bangui on Friday, said Minister of Territorial Administration Josie Binoua.
Neighboring African countries have agreed to send more forces to support the Bozize government.
Representatives from the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States, or ECCAS, agreed at a meeting in Gabon Friday to send forces to CAR, but did not did not specify how many troops would be sent or how quickly the military assistance would arrive.
The ECCAS states, with more than 500 soldiers via their regional peacekeeping force in Central Africa, over the weekend warned the rebels to halt their advances.
The ongoing instability prompted the United States to evacuate about 40 people, including the U.S. ambassador, from Bangui on an U.S. Air Force plane bound for Kenya, said U.S. officials who insisted on anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the operation.
The United States has special forces troops in the country who are assisting in the hunt for Joseph Kony, the fugitive rebel leader of another rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army. The U.S. special forces remain in the country, the U.S. military's Africa Command said from its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.
The evacuation of the U.S. diplomats came after criticism of how the U.S. handled diplomatic security before and during the attack on its consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. The ambassador and three other Americans were killed in that attack.
French diplomats have remained in Bangui despite a violent demonstration outside its embassy last week. Dozens of protesters, angry at France's lack of help against rebel forces, threw rocks at the French Embassy in Bangui and stole a French flag.
CAR is a landlocked nation of 4.4 million people is one of the poorest countries in the world. The current president himself came to power nearly a decade ago in the wake of a rebellion in this resource-rich yet deeply poor country.
Despite Central African Republic's wealth of gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, the government remains perpetually cash-strapped.