BANGUI, Central African Republic — Looters and gunmen roamed the streets of Central African Republic's capital Bangui on Tuesday as regional peacekeepers struggled to restore order two days after a coup plunged the mineral-rich country into chaos.
The ousting of President Francois Bozize and the political turmoil around it has raised fears of a humanitarian crisis in the former French colony — and embarrassed regional power South Africa which had sent troops to defend the government.
Thousands of rebel fighters poured into the capital on Sunday, brushing aside a 400-strong South African force which attempted to block their path. At least 13 South African soldiers were killed and 27 wounded.
Rebel leader and self-proclaimed president Michel Djotodia — who had accused Bozize of breaking past peace accords — on Monday asked regional peacekeepers stationed in the country to help him restore order.
But sporadic gunfire continued to ring out across the sprawling riverside capital, home to 600,000 people, and electricity was down for a fourth day running.
"We have been patrolling for two days in an effort to stop the pillaging," a senior officer from the roughly 1,000-strong five-nation regional force FOMAC told Reuters.
"Things are slowing getting better but we are far from being able to say things are normal," he added.
FOMAC commanders have been trying to persuade Seleka leaders to get their fighters - a ragtag group of mostly northern rebels, many of them children - off the streets and into barracks amid concerns they were behind some of the looting.
Djotodia pledged on Monday to name a power-sharing government and to set elections after three years in a bid to defuse international criticism of the coup.
The removal of Bozize, who himself seized power in a coup backed by Chad in 2003, was the latest of many rebellions since the poor, landlocked country won independence from France in 1960. Bozize fled to neighboring Cameroon.
SETBACK FOR SOUTH AFRICA
As rebels approached, former colonial power France made it clear it would not intervene — Paris has long said its days as "Africa's policeman" have passed.
Bozize turned instead to regional power South Africa, which has been trying to build up its influence in the resource-rich territory.
"This is complete disaster for South Africa," said Thierry Vircoulon, Central African specialist at the International Crisis Group. "They did not at all understand they were backing the wrong horse. They did not consult within the region."
Seleka took a series of towns and came close to the capital last year, after accusing Bozize of failing to honor an earlier peace deal to give its fighters cash and jobs in exchange for laying down their arms.
Chad and other regional powers sent in troops to back the government and that revolt ended in a January peace accord.
But Seleka last week said the government had again failed to implement agreements - to incorporate its fighters into the army and get the foreign troops withdrawn - and started a lightning advance on Bangui.
Despite rich deposits of gold, diamonds and uranium, Central African Republic remains one of the world's least developed nations.
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