WASHINGTON: The State Department has closed its embassy in the Central African Republic and ordered the ambassador and his diplomatic team to leave the country as rebels there continue to advance and violence escalates, U.S. officials said Thursday.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, said that at the State Department’s request, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had directed U.S. Africa Command to evacuate U.S. citizens and designated foreign nationals from the U.S. Embassy in Bangui “to safe havens in the region.”
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the U.S. Embassy had temporarily suspended operations, but not diplomatic relations with the country.
“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, Ventrell said in a statement.
Shortly after announcing the evacuation Thursday, the State Department warned U.S. citizens against travel to the Central African Republic, saying it could not “provide protection or routine consular services to U.S. citizens” and urging Americans who have decided to stay to “review their personal security situation and seriously consider departing” on commercial flights.
U.S. officials said about 40 people were evacuated on a U.S. Air Force plane bound for Kenya. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the details of the operation.
The departure of Ambassador Laurence Wohlers and his staff comes as the president of the Central African Republic on Thursday called on France and other foreign powers to help his government fend off rebels who are seizing territory and approaching the capital city, but French officials declined to offer any military assistance.