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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-12-30

Central African Republic President François Bozize said he was ready to form a coalition government with rebel forces and would not run for re-election in 2016, during talks on Sunday with the African Union chief Thomas Boni Yayi.

Central African Republic President Francois Bozize is open to a national unity government after he has talks with rebel fighters, and he will not run for president in 2016, the head of the African Union said Sunday.

After meeting with Bozize in the capital Bangui, AU chief Thomas Boni Yayi said he was ready to go to the Gabonese capital Libreville for talks to end a crisis that has seen rebels sweep across the impoverished country and close in on the capital.

The talks "should lead to a national unity government," Boni Yayi said, adding that Bozize, who seized power in a 2003 coup and then won two elections, would not run for re-election in 2016 and would "respect constitutional provisions."

Opposition figures have harshly criticised the president whom they suspect of wanting to modify the constitution in order to be able to stand for a third term in office.

Rebels from a coalition known as Seleka, who took up arms on December 10 near the border with Chad and have met little resistance from government troops, on Sunday warned they could enter Bangui.

"Bozize intends to give battle in Bangui, and if the situation demands it, we will take action," rebel spokesman Eric Massi told AFP by telephone from the Gabonese capital Libreville before Boni Yayi's meeting with the president.

He stressed that the rebels were not currently planning to seize the capital.

Tensions were high in Bangui after the country's armed forces retreated to Damara, the last major town on the way to Bangui, about 75 kilometres (45 miles) away, in the southwest.

With the rebels closing in, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which has troops in the country, warned both sides Sunday that Damara must remain in government control.

"The ECCAS forces are on maximum alert, and the city of Damara is the line not to be crossed. We ask the FACA (government forces) and the rebels not to advance from their current positions and to give talks a chance," said Antonio Di Garcia, head of the regional bloc's mission, on national radio.

The rebels have been insisting on Bozize's departure.

"That issue must be discussed with the African Union," Massi told AFP. "President Bozize must recognise his military defeat on the ground ... and draw the necessary conclusions."

The rebels, who now control five regional capitals in the centre and north of the country, faced no resistance as they entered the town of Sibut around 150 kilometres (95 miles) from Bangui on Saturday, a military official told AFP.

Officials on both sides said the rebels had also repelled army soldiers trying to recapture Bambari, a former military stronghold in the landlocked country, one of the world's poorest despite vast mineral wealth.

The coalition of three rebel movements in Seleka -- or the "alliance" in the Sango language -- launched their offensive claiming the government has not fulfilled the terms of peace pacts signed in 2007 and 2011, which include providing for disarmament, pay and social reintegration for insurgents.

Bozize's appeals for help from former colonial power France and from the United States to fight the rebels have fallen on deaf ears.

France has a military presence of about 580 troops in the country, 180 of whom arrived overnight Saturday, the French defence ministry said.

This contingent is on hand to help to protect and evacuate French and European nationals, should the need arise.

Neighbouring Chad, which helped Bozize with rebellions in 2010, has sent a contingent to the country, but those troops too have retreated from the rebel advance.

In Bangui, the population was fearful of a rebel attack and the uncertainty has caused a sharp spike in food prices. Authorities have imposed a nighttime curfew, resulting in an eery quiet in the usually noisy city.

In the town centre, businesses had hired guards armed with machetes to stand watch and prevent looting.

"I'm afraid of the rebels coming," said vegetable vendor Euphrasie Ngotanga in the city's huge Sambo market. "We're not going to sell our produce if there's no peace. And then how we will feed our children?"

The Central African Republic is notorious for unrest including coups, army mutinies and rebellions.


Date created : 2012-12-30


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