"ECCAS forces are on high alert, and the city of Damara is the limit not to cross," said Antonio Di Garcia, the ECCAS representative in Bangui. He urged the government forces and the rebels to hold to their current positions and to begin dialogue.
The ongoing instability prompted the United States to evacuate about 40 people, including the U.S. ambassador, from Bangui on an U.S. Air Force plane bound for Kenya, said U.S. officials who insisted on anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the operation.
The United States has special forces troops in the country who are assisting in the hunt for Joseph Kony, the fugitive rebel leader of another rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army. The U.S. special forces remain in the country, the U.S. military's Africa Command said from its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.
The evacuation of the U.S. diplomats came after criticism of how the U.S. handled diplomatic security before and during the attack on its consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. The ambassador and three other Americans were killed in that attack.
French diplomats have remained in Bangui despite a violent demonstration outside its embassy last week. Dozens of protesters, angry at France's lack of help against rebel forces, threw rocks at the French Embassy in Bangui and stole a French flag.
This landlocked nation of 4.4 million people has suffered decades of army revolts, coups and rebellions since gaining independence in 1960 and remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The current president himself came to power nearly a decade ago in the wake of a rebellion in this resource-rich yet deeply poor country.
Bozize's government earlier reached out to longtime ally Chad, which pledged to send 2,000 troops to bolster Central African Republic's own forces.
The rebels behind the most recent instability signed a 2007 peace accord allowing them to join the regular army, but insurgent leaders say the deal wasn't fully implemented.
The rebels say they are fighting because of their "thirst for justice, for peace, for security and for economic development of the people of Central African Republic." The rebels also are demanding that the government make payments to ex-combatants.
Despite Central African Republic's wealth of gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, the government remains perpetually cash-strapped.
The United Nations Security Council condemned the violence and reiterated its demand that the armed groups "immediately cease hostilities, withdraw from captured cities and cease any further advance towards the city of Bangui."
Associated Press Writer Greg Keller contributed to this piece from Paris.
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