Rebels in Central Africa Republic have reached the outskirts of the capital, Bangui.
A rebel spokesman yesterday said they had advanced to within 15 miles of the riverside capital, which some of their men had already infiltrated.
In Bangui, panicked residents ran through the streets, shops closed and schools sent home pupils after national radio announced the rebel advance.
“Our objective is to take Bangui,” Nelson Ndjadder, spokesman for the CPSK faction of the Seleka rebel coalition, said from Paris.
Central Africa Republic has rich deposits of gold, diamonds and uranium but is one of the world’s least developed countries. A regional peacekeeping force from neighbouring central African states had established Damara as a “red line” for the Seleka not to cross when they advanced on the capital last year.
However, residents in Damara said the peacekeepers had simply stood aside as the rebels advanced on Friday.
Seleka resumed hostilities this week, accusing president Francois Bozize of breaking a January peace deal. Mr Bozize, who seized power in a 2003 coup, is away on a visit to South Africa.