Rebels waging an offensive in the Central African Republic have seized another major town, a military source said, bringing them a little closer to the nation's capital.
The rebel coalition known as Seleka, an alliance of three groups, on Tuesday reached Kaga-Bandoro, the fourth regional capital they have captured during their offensive that began on December 10.
While one of the rebel leaders has said they do not want to march on the capital, the fighters have nevertheless made a rapid advance south and west towards the capital, meeting little resistance from government troops.
A military source in the capital Bangui said on Tuesday that Central Africa's President Francois Bozize had met with military officials to discuss the situation.
Rebels arrived in the market town Kaga-Bandoro "in vehicles and on motorcycles, and started using heavy weapons to fire at strategic points: a military base, police stations, the customs office," said a military source in Sibut, about 130km south.
"Members of the Central African armed forces resisted briefly then began to retreat towards Sibut," he added. Sibut itself lies around 100km from Bangui.
"A large part of the population took cover in their homes when they heard the explosions, and many residents fled in the direction of neighbouring villages," the Sibut military source added.
Kago-Bandoro is the fourth regional capital to be captured by rebels after Ndele in the north; Bria in the central region of Haute-Kotto; and Bambari, further to the southwest.
They now control large swathes of the north and the east of the country and are moving ever closer to Bangui, which sits on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and also lies near the Republic of the Congo.
Failing to talk
The rebels want the government to honour peace accords signed between 2007 and 2011 that offered financial support and other help for rebel fighters who laid down their arms.
Last week, soldiers from Chad entered the country at Bangui's request to help the army contain the rebel offensive, their forces having helped Bozize during rebellions in the north in 2010.
But the Chadian troops have made it clear they are a peacekeeping force and have not opposed the rebels' swift advance.
On Friday, Bozize and other central African leaders meeting in the Chadian capital N'Djamena proposed talks.
The same day, one rebel leader said they were suspending their advance to give such talks a chance. A day later however, another of the rebel alliance's leader had announced the capture of two more towns.
In Bangui, the government said on Monday it would only hold talks if the rebels pulled back from the towns they had captured.
The rebels said on Monday they were still open to talks, provided Bozize announced a ceasefire first.
Bozize himself seized power in a coup in 2003.
The Central African Republic is a mineral-rich, landlocked country with less than five million residents. It ranks 179 out of 187 countries on the UN's latest development index and has seen frequent coups and mutinies.