BANGUI  - The African Union suspends the Central African Republic on Monday after rebels seized power in a rapid weekend assault on the capital, sending President Francois Bozize fleeing and triggering international appeals for calm.

Rebel leader Michel Djotodia planned to declare himself president Monday after his Seleka coalition took control of Bangui in the wake of the collapse of a two-month-old peace deal with Bozize's regime. But the African Union took swift action on Monday amid international concern about the deteriorating security situation in the deeply unstable former French colony. "The council has decided to suspend with immediate effect Central African Republic from all African Union activities and to impose sanctions, travel restrictions and an asset freeze on Seleka's leaders," said AU peace and Security chief Ramtane Lamamra.

South Africa said 13 of its soldiers were killed and 27 wounded in the weekend fighting in Bangui and condemned the rebel offensive. "As a member of the African Union, South Africa rejects any efforts to seize power by force," President Jacob Zuma told reporters, adding however that there were no immediate plans to withdraw troops helping the weak national army.

Following initial mystery over Bozize's whereabouts, the president's office in Yaounde announced in a radio broadcast that he had "sought refuge in Cameroon" and was "awaiting his departure to another host country". Djotodia, a former civil servant turned rebel leader, said Sunday he would declare himself president but told Radio France Internationale the rebels would respect the terms of a January peace deal and hold free and fair elections by 2016.

Opposition figure Nicolas Tiangaye, appointed prime minister of a national unity government formed as part of the accord that ended a previous Seleka offensive launched late last year, would remain in the post, he said.

Djotodia said he may keep some ministers from Bozize's clan in his government, pledging: "We are not here to carry out a witch-hunt."

In a city without electricity and no national radio, Djotodia told Radio France Internationale that "three years from now, we are going to organise free and transparent elections with everybody's help."

Whereas, the UNSC will hold emergency consultations on the crisis in the CAR, diplomats said. The 15-nation body is expected to release a statement calling for a return to constitutional government. "There is a new president, self-proclaimed in a totally unconstitutional way and the question we are all asking is how to come back to a constitutional situation, how to have elections as quickly as possible," France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters as he announced the meeting.

The international community has expressed concern over the situation in the CAR, which remains one of the poorest nations on earth although it has largely untapped mineral wealth including uranium, gold and diamonds.