NEW: An Air France flight turns around en route to Central African Republic
United Nations is temporarily relocating nonessential staff
The U.S. State Department warns against all but essential travel outside the capital
French President Hollande orders troops to protect the embassy in Bangui
The United Nations announced Wednesday that it is temporarily relocating dependents and nonessential staff in the Central African Republic because a cease-fire with rebel forces is not holding.
Their “contradictory messages and their continued military offensive seem to indicate that they might be intent on taking Bangui,” said U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq, referring to the capital city.
The move “is a precautionary measure to reduce our presence in the event the security situation further deteriorates in Bangui,” he continued.
In a statement, the spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon said the secretary-general “condemns the armed attacks on several towns in the Central African Republic perpetrated by the coalition of rebel groups ‘SELEKA.’
“These developments gravely undermine the peace agreements in place and the efforts of the international community to consolidate peace in the Central African Republic. The secretary-general deeply regrets the loss of life and population displacement caused by the fighting.”
The developments came on the same day an Air France jet – en route to Bangui – turned around mid-flight and returned to Paris because of tensions in the country. The next flight to the African nation by the airline is scheduled for January 2.
“We are analyzing the situation over there by the moment,” a statement from the airline said.
On Monday, the U.S. Department of State, citing “increased rebel activity” in the country, warned U.S. citizens against all but essential travel outside Bangui. On Sunday, the department authorized the departure of nonemergency personnel in Bangui.
“U.S. citizens should review their personal security situation and consider taking advantage of commercial flights,” the department said.
“Armed militia groups, bandits and poachers present real dangers, and the Central African government is unable to guarantee the safety of visitors in most parts of the country,” it said. “There have been repeated attacks on Central African and expatriate travelers in the countryside. Attacks in past months have occurred as close as 70 kilometers from Bangui. Poachers and armed men also pose a threat to game hunters in northern and eastern CAR. The Lord’s Resistance Army poses a similar threat to hunters in eastern CAR.”
The Lord’s Resistance Army is led by fugitive warlord Joseph Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court at the Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity, stemming in part from allegations of vicious tactics to conscript children as soldiers and sex slaves in his army.
Also Wednesday, French President Francois Hollande ordered his defense minister to deploy soldiers who were already in the country to safeguard the embassy in Bangui after a demonstration there, his office said.
The order came after hundreds of youths gathered during the morning outside the embassy, where they threw pipes and stones at the embassy to protest French policies affecting the Central African Republic, witnesses said.
France has a permanent presence of 200 to 300 military personnel at Bangui’s airport under the mandate of the Economic Community of Central African States.
The Central African Republic came into being after the French colony known as Ubangi-Shari gained independence in 1960.
According to the CIA World Factbook, the government, led by a general, does not fully control the countryside.