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French deploys troops to Central African Republic as rebels enter capital

By Pierre Meilhan and Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 5:53 PM EDT, Sat March 23, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • About 150 French troops secure Bangui airport without resistance from rebels
  • Seleka rebels have overrun most of the country and entered the capital
  • This comes two months after a peace deal was reached, only to fall apart
  • France requests an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting, its foreign ministry says

(CNN) -- About 150 French troops secured the airport in the Central African Republic's capital on Saturday, after rebel fighters pushed their way into the city and put the government to the brink.

While its troops took over the main airport in its former colony without resistance, France urged the international community to step up as well to prevent the Central African Republic government's downfall. According to its foreign ministry, France asked Saturday for an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting to address the crisis.

This request comes a day after Security Council members issued a statement voicing "strong concerns" about the rebels' advance on Bangui and condemning "all attempts to undermine the stability of the Central African Republic." The statement included a plea for "all parties to cease hostilities immediately."

The Seleka rebel coalition launched its offensive in December, accusing President Francois Bozize of reneging on a peace deal and demanding he step down.

The group, based in the landlocked country's north, managed to take control of several towns and move toward Bangui in the ensuing weeks.

The Seleka and government brokered a new peace deal in January, agreeing to form a unity government led by Bozize. The president, a prime minister to be named and Cabinet members could not run in the next election, said Margaret Vogt, a special representative of the U.N. secretary-general.

International officials cautiously applauded the deal, noting that both sides must be fully committed to it -- and willing to work with other -- if it's to work.

Vogt, for one, warned a lack of introspection -- and corrective action -- about the failure to full implement previous agreements "may lead to another meltdown a few years down the line."

It didn't take even that long. The Seleka accused the Central African Republic government of not living up to its commitment and subsequently resumed attacks, according to the United Nations.

By the end of this week, rebels had overrun most of the country and taken the fight to Bozize's doorstep -- leaving his future, and that of his country, very much in doubt.

CNN's Neda Farshbaf contributed to this report.

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