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Troops from Chad defend Central African Republic

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He won the 2011 election with more than 64 percent of the vote, though the United States said the voting was "widely viewed as severely flawed." The U.S. evacuated its diplomats from Bangui last week.

The most prominent among the rebel groups in Seleka is the UFDR, or Union of Democratic Forces for Unity.

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Human Rights Watch, which has documented abuses by both government forces and rebel groups operating in the country’s north, says the UFDR rebellion "has its roots in the deep marginalization of northeastern CAR, which is virtually cut off from the rest of the country and is almost completely undeveloped."

The rebels, though, also have included some of Bozize’s former fighters who helped bring him to power in 2003 but later accused him of failing to properly pay them, among other grievances, Human Rights Watch says.

For the people now caught in the middle, they want life to return to normal.

"Everyone is suffering here — we have nothing to eat," said Daniel Ngakou, 55, as he watched the Chadian troops patrol his hometown of Damara. "The women are searching in the bush all day for food. We just don’t know what will happen."

The United Nations called on the government and the rebels Wednesday to focus on dialogue that can avert violence and lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict and respect for the 2008 Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement. That deal was signed by the government and three major rebel groups.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky reiterated the U.N. Security Council’s call last week for all parties to refrain from any acts of violence against civilians, respect human rights and seek a peaceful solution.

"We welcome regional efforts to seek a political solution and reinforce security," Nesirky told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.

While the United Nations has temporarily withdrawn its staff from Central African Republic, Nesirky said the world body remains engaged in efforts to resolve the crisis.

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He said U.N. special representative Margaret Vogt "has remained in close dialogue with the key parties in the Central African Republic and the region and has offered support to political negotiations," he said.

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