Bangui - Rebels began withdrawing from the Central African Repubclic capital of Bangui as the country on Sunday awaited an international intervention to halt the downward spiral of violence in the country.
The rebels' retreat came ahead of what is expected to be a key week for the strife-torn country as its crisis tops the international diplomatic agenda.
Efforts to improve security in the Central African Republic will get under way with a UN Security Council vote this week on a French-drafted resolution aimed at strengthening a flagging African stabilisation force on the ground.
That vote will be followed by a mini-summit on the CAR unrest in Paris on 7 December, to be attended by about 40 African leaders, including CAR Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye, as well as UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
On Sunday, 500 troops from neighbouring Republic of Congo readied to join the beleaguered African-led Misca force in the CAR, which has around 2 500 soldiers in place but has failed to get off the ground due to a lack of funds and training.
Last week France announced its intention to deploy 1 000 troops to its former colony in a bid to stop a string of abuses allegedly carried out by militia gangs and ex-members of the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition that toppled CAR's leader in a March coup.
After the French announcement, which was welcomed by transitional leader Michel Djotodia, rattled ex-Seleka rebels have been fleeing Bangui in their pick-up trucks under the cover of darkness.
"We are getting the same information everywhere - the Seleka are leaving Bangui," a diplomat said on Saturday on condition of anonymity.
Chasing troublemakers from the capital may not be too difficult for France, which has had support forces stationed in Bangui for more than a decade who know the region.
But defeating rebels who flee eastwards, to the forest-covered, virtually impenetrable regions bordering Chad, the Sudans and Democratic Republic of Congo may prove quite a task.
"The Seleka are leaving Bangui, but what will they do in the bush? Who will go and disarm them in the forest?" another diplomat asked.
Saturday's summit in Paris will focus on how to put France's resolution - which asks that international troops in the CAR be able to use force rather than maintain a purely peacekeeping role - into action if passed.
The international community has repeatedly voiced its concern about the mineral-rich Central African Republic, where the aftermath of the coup has sparked violent chaos across the vast landlocked country.
Ex-president Francois Bozize was toppled by the Seleka coalition and replaced with the Christian-majority country's first Muslim president, Djotodia, who then formally disbanded the rebels.
Reports from watchdogs such as Human Rights Watch have painted a grim picture of ex-Seleka members, security forces and militia gangs torturing and executing villagers and perpetrating widespread rape.
The clashes have also taken on a religious undertone, pitting Christians against Muslims and raising fears of sectarian massacres.
Lying in the heart of Africa, the impoverished Central African Republic has struggled with a series of coups and rebel uprisings since independence in 1960.
The UN estimates that the latest strife has forced 400 000 people, or 10% of the population, to leave their homes.
Analysts have warned that the conflict could engulf the country's neighbours.