Thursday, January 10, 2013
Central African Republic ceasefire urged as talks begin
By Jean Rovys Dabany
LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Mediators urged Central African Republic's government and rebels to sign a ceasefire on Wednesday as talks got under way to end a month-long revolt in the mineral-rich nation.
The rebels have come within striking distance of the capital Bangui, posing the biggest threat to President Francois Bozize since he took control of the former French colony in a rebellion a decade ago.
"I am asking everyone to show restraint and, in this context, we will suggest at the start of the talks that a ceasefire agreement be signed," said Basile Ikouebe, foreign minister of Congo Republic which is mediating the talks.
Bozize has relied on foreign military help to fend off a series of smaller insurgencies, and regional powers, chief among them Chad, have sent in hundreds of troops to bolster his army this time.
The Seleka rebels accuse him of failing to honour a 2007 peace agreement to give insurgents money and jobs in exchange for laying down their weapons.
They took a string of towns, pushing government forces to within 75 km (45 miles) of Bangui before bowing to international pressure to attend the negotiations in Gabon's capital Libreville.
At the peace talks, Seleka representatives handed out a document demanding Bozize face charges at the International Crimes Court "for acts of war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated against the civilians in the north and northeast in 2002," referring to the rebellion that put him in power.
Prospects for a peace deal appeared slim. On Tuesday Bozize accused the rebels of being foreign gunmen hired by unnamed businesses.
Nine opposition parties attending the talks demanded the president step down, accusing him of rigging election victories in 2005 and 2011 and isolating the country.
"The resignation of the President Bozize and the establishment of a political transition is a sine qua non condition to end the crisis," the parties said in the joint statement seen by Reuters.
They also demanded the suspension of the country's constitution and the appointment of a transitional government and national assembly for not more than three years before elections.
Bozize has asked to be allowed to complete his mandate which ends in 2016, and has promised not to seek another term.
"The issue of my departure is out of order. I was twice elected as head of state with more than 70 percent of the vote. I'm here and that's it," Bozize told journalists late on Tuesday in Bangui.
"According to information reaching us ... among these rebels are Janjaweed (Sudanese militia) and foreigners from neighbouring countries," he said.
France used air strikes to defend Bozize in 2006 but has refused his request for military help with the Seleka rebels, saying the days of intervention were over. Paris has 600 troops in the country to defend about 1,200 of its citizens there.
Plagued by instability, Central African Republic has seen low levels of investment. France has the biggest mining investment in the country, a uranium mine in the southeast being developed by French nuclear energy group Areva.
(Additional reporting Paul-Marin Ngoupana in Bangui and Ange Aboa in Abidjan; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Andrew Heavens)