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US embassy evacuated in Central African Republic as rebels approach capital

Sia Kambou / AFP - Getty Images

A Centrafrican military convoy drives on a road going to Sibut, 114 miles north of Bangui, the country's capital on Saturday. Sibut was seized by the rebel coalition Seleka.

As rebels approached the capital of the embattled Central African Republic, the U.S. shuttered its embassy and moved out its ambassador and about 40 diplomats, the Guardian of London reported.

“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 (Central African Republic),” read a statement posted Friday to the embassy’s website.

The Seleka rebels seized the city of Sibut about 114 miles from Bangui, the capital, a government official confirmed to The Associated Press. Sibut, a transportation hub, fell to the rebels without a shot fired because the government army had pulled back on Friday.

The rebels accuse President François Bozizé of not meeting terms of a 2007 peace agreement, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, Bozizé, who grabbed power in 2003 and has since been twice elected president, has pleaded for international help, appealing to the French in particular. The French government, the former colonial power, has refused to step in.

The Central African Republic, with a population of about 4.4 million, is landlocked between other politically unstable countries at the heart of the continent. President Barack Obama sent about 100 special operations troops to the region in April to hunt down Joseph Kony, the rebel leader of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army and the subject of a widely viewed, 30-minute documentary, Kony 2012.

Related: US and Ugandan soldiers go after Joseph Kony

Doctors Without Borders said in a statement this week that clashes between rebels and the army have forced residents to leave their homes – disrupting their missions to bring medical care to the region.

“This situation could have fatal consequences for people already struggling to find care after a decade of chronic armed violence had severely limited the country’s health system,” the statement said. Doctors Without Borders, which has had a presence in the region since 1997, says that malaria is the main focus of its projects there.

Enoch Nodl-ya, a nurse anesthetist for Doctors Without Borders, provided a medical perspective on other issues faced:

For the last 10 years the population has endured the regular presence and attacks from armed men in this region. People are scared and flee rapidly into the bush. As a consequence, many women give birth in the fields without any assistance and most sick or wounded are hesitant to receive medical assistance, scared of possible violence in the populated areas. When the violence stops, we often see patients coming in an advance stage of their diseases.

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