Bangui - The African Union suspends the Central African
Republic on Monday after rebels seized power in a rapid weekend assault on the
capital, sending President Francois Bozize fleeing and triggering international
appeals for calm.
Rebel leader Michel Djotodia planned to declare himself
president on Monday after his Seleka coalition took control of Bangui in the
wake of the collapse of a two-month-old peace deal with Bozize's regime.
But the African Union took swift action on Monday amid
international concern about the deteriorating security situation in the deeply
unstable former French colony.
"The council has decided to suspend with immediate
effect Central African Republic from all African Union activities and to impose
sanctions, travel restrictions and an asset freeze on Seleka's leaders,"
said AU peace and Security chief Ramtane Lamamra.
South Africa said 13 of its soldiers were killed and 27
wounded in the weekend fighting in Bangui and condemned the rebel offensive.
"As a member of the African Union, South Africa rejects
any efforts to seize power by force," President Jacob Zuma told reporters,
adding however that there were no immediate plans to withdraw troops helping
the weak national army.
Djotodia, a former civil servant turned rebel leader, said
Sunday he would declare himself president but told Radio France Internationale
the rebels would respect the terms of a January peace deal and would hold free
and fair elections within three years.
Human rights abuses
Opposition figure Nicolas Tiangaye, appointed prime minister
of a national unity government formed as part of the accord that ended a
previous Seleka offensive launched late last year, would remain in the post, he
Bozize, who himself seized power in a coup in 2003, is said
to have fled the Central African Republic but his whereabouts remain a mystery.
One well-placed source told AFP that he had left the country
in a helicopter, but did not disclose his destination. French Foreign Minister
Laurent Fabius confirmed only that he had fled Bangui.
About 20 members of Bozize's family were taken to the
neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, government spokesperson Lambert
Mende told AFP, but said the ousted leader was not on its soil.
Djotodia said he may keep some ministers from Bozize's clan
in his government, pledging: "We are not here to carry out a
Bangui residents initially welcomed the rebels, waving palm
leaves in celebration but the optimistic atmosphere quickly soured into anxiety
as gangs of armed looters roamed the riverside city, pillaging shops and
offices including the premises of the UN children's agency Unicef.
And the international community has expressed concern over
the situation in the country, which remains one of the poorest nations on earth
although it has largely untapped mineral wealth including uranium, gold and
The US State Department said on Sunday it was "very
concerned by the worsening humanitarian situation in CAR and credible,
widespread reports of human rights abuses by both national security forces and
It also called for rebels to restore electricity and water
to the capital which had been interrupted over the weekend.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the
seizure of power by Seleka - a loose alliance of three rebel movements -
calling for "the swift restoration of constitutional order".
French President Francois Hollande called on all parties to
form a government in accordance with the January peace deal hammered out in the
Gabonese capital Libreville, and asked "the armed groups to respect the
population", thousands of whom have already fled Bangui.
Rebel fighters resumed hostilities last week after they
accused Bozize of reneging on the terms of the January deal which aimed to put
an end to a previous offensive launched by Seleka in December.
The accord brought several prominent figures from Seleka
into the government but it collapsed after the rebels said their demands, which
included the release of people they described as political prisoners, had not
Seleka launched its first offensive on December 10, accusing
Bozize of having failed to honour an earlier peace agreement. They seized a
string of towns on their way south but stopped short of Bangui.
The state, which has a population of about 4.5 million, has
been unstable since its independence from France in 1960, with a history of
coups and mutinees.