An opposition leader in Central African Republic has called on his fighters to lay down their weapons after he signed a peace deal with Francois Bozize, the country's president.
Abdoulaye Miskine, leader of the People's Democratic Front which signed an accord with Bozize in Libya on Friday, said those who disregarded his order would be punished.
Miskine said in an interview in Bangui after arriving back from Libya: "I appeal to all my men in the bush, those in Democratic Republic of Congo, in Sudan, Chad and Cameroon, to lay down their weapons and join me.
"Those who do not respect my appeal will suffer grave consequences."
Central African Republic has long been racked by conflict and now has to deal with violence spilling over from Chad and Sudan's conflict-torn Darfur region, both of which it borders.
Tens of thousands of civilians have been driven from their homes in fighting between the army and armed groups who loot and burn villages in what aid workers have called one of Africa's forgotten humanitarian crises.
Late last year, French Mirage fighters, helicopter gunships and special forces helped Central African Republic's army recapture a string of north-eastern towns seized by fighters whom Bangui said were backed by Sudan. Khartoum denied this.
UN security experts are currently in the region evaluating an appeal from Bozize for UN peacekeepers to protect its borders and help prevent the Darfur conflict spreading.
Some UN officials have expressed reservations about deploying troops before political solutions to Central African Republic's own domestic instability could be found.
|"[Miskine] can return in ... to take part in the effort to rebuild the country [and] the only advice I can give him is to work ... purely for harmony and peace."|
Francois Bozize, Central African Republic President
Under Friday's deal, brokered by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in his hometown of Sirte, the government and the two armed factions agreed to stop hostilities and allow the groups' fighters to integrate into the ranks of government security and military forces or public service administration.
After the signing ceremony, Bozize said: "[Miskine] can return in complete tranquillity to take part in the effort to rebuild the country. The only advice I can give him is to work. To work purely for harmony and peace."
Miskine and Ringui Le Gaillard, the other leader who signed the agreement, are viewed as associates of Angel Felix Patasse, an exiled former president who, after his 2003 overthrow by Bozize, has been accused of trying to foment rebellion.
Patasse, who has lived in Togo since being ousted, said on Thursday he wanted to hold negotiations in person with Bozize to start a process of national reconciliation. The authorities in Bangui have not publicly responded to his call.