Central African Republic rebels advance on Bangui

image copyrightAFP
image captionFrance has despatched more troops but refused to provide military assistance to the government

Rebels in the Central African Republic have made fresh gains and are now in control of a key central city, officials say.

Forces from the Seleka rebel alliance have entered the town of Sibut after the army withdrew on Friday evening.

Meanwhile government officials have confirmed that their forces' attempt to retake Bambari on Friday had been beaten back.

Rebel forces are now within 150km (95 miles) of the capital, Bangui.

President Francois Bozize has appealed to France, the United States and neighbouring countries for help to combat Seleka - an alliance of three separate groups who want the terms of an earlier peace deal to be honoured.

France and the US have refused, though more French troops arrived in Bangui from a base in Gabon, tasked with protecting French nationals and interests.

More than 1,000 French nationals live in CAR, mainly working for mining companies.

Officials from a regional grouping, Eccas (the Economic Community of Central African States), said on Friday that more troops from the Central African Multinational Force (Fomac) would be sent to CAR.

But no firm timetable for that deployment has yet be given, nor has a date been set for talks between the government and the rebels.

Speaking after Friday's meeting in Libreville, the Foreign Minister of Gabon, Emmanuel Issoze Ngondet said: ""We are thinking of a way to deploy this mission as quickly as possible".

More than 500 soldiers from Fomac are already in CAR. Troops from Chad had been stationed at Sibut but withdrew along with the government forces.

Rapid gains by the Seleka rebels have raised fears that CAR's capital Bangui could fall within days.

Seleka accuses Mr Bozize of failing to honour a 2007 peace deal under which fighters who laid down their arms were meant to be paid.

The rebels have pledged to depose Mr Bozize unless he negotiates with them.

They began their campaign a month ago and have taken several towns and the diamond centre of Bria in their push towards the capital.

In Bangui, residents report sharp rises in staple foods as the rebels draw closer.

The price of the food staple, cassava, has risen by more than a quarter in recent days.

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