U.S. shuts embassy in Central African Republic

State Department, generic, seal, logo AP GraphicsBank

WASHINGTON The State Department is closing its embassy in the Central African Republic and ordering its diplomatic team to leave as rebels there continue to advance and violence escalates.

U.S. officials said the U.S. ambassador and about 40 others, including a number of Americans, were flown out of Bangui on a U.S. Air Force C-40 headed to Kenya. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were unauthorized to discuss the evacuation publicly.

In a statement, the State Department said: "This decision is solely due to concerns about the security of our personnel and has no relation to our continuing and long-standing diplomatic relations with the CAR."

Rebels have seized at least 10 towns across the sparsely populated north of the impoverished country, and residents in the capital of 600,000 people fear insurgents could attack at any time.

On Sunday, the State Department issued a warning recommending against travel to the country and authorized non-emergency personnel in Bangui to leave.

Also on Thursday, the president of Central African Republic urgently called on France and other foreign powers to help his government fend off rebels, but French officials declined to offer any military assistance.

The developments suggest Central African Republic could be on the brink of another violent change in government, something not new in the history of this resource-rich, yet deeply impoverished country. The current president, Francois Bozize, himself came to power nearly a decade ago in the wake of a rebellion.

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