Central African Republic rebels have met with the head of the African Union and have said they are ready to consider a coalition offer, but added that their aim is not to join the government.
A spokesman for the rebel group Seleka said on Sunday, “Know that Seleka’s aim today is not to enter into a government but to allow the people of Central African Republic to be able to drive the country towards development and self-fulfillment.”
Embattled President Francois Bozize said he was ready to share power with the leaders of a rebellion that has swept aside government defences to within striking distance of the capital.
“I am ready to form a government of national unity with [the rebels] to run the country together, because I am a democrat,” Bozize told a news conference following a meeting with African Union Chairman Thomas Yayi Boni in the capital, Bangui.
The African Union is attempting to set up negotiations in Gabon between the government and the rebels – who have taken over large parts of the country and are moving closer to the capital.
Boziz added that he was ready to attend peace talks that are being organised by regional leaders in Libreville, Gabon, “without condition and without delay”.
The three-week onslaught by the rebel alliance Seleka has highlighted the instability of the former French colony.
As fears mounted that the rebels would attack Bangui, a city of 600,000, Bozize imposed a curfew from 7pm until 5am.
The rebel forces have seized at least 10 cities across the sparsely populated north of the country.
Rebellions and coups
Residents in the capital now fear the fighters could attack at any time, despite assurances by rebel leaders that they are willing to engage in dialogue instead of attacking Bangui.
On Saturday, rebels seized the city of Sibut, 185km from Bangui.
Sibut, a key transportation hub, fell without a shot being fired because the Central African Republic (CAR) army and forces from neighbouring Chad had pulled back to Damara, 75km from Bangui on Friday, said Minister of Territorial Administration Josie Binoua.
Neighbouring African countries have agreed to send more forces to support the Bozize government.
The land-locked nation of 4.4 million people has suffered decades of army revolts, coups and rebellions since gaining independence in 1960 and remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
The current president himself came to power nearly a decade ago in the wake of a rebellion in this resource-rich yet deeply poor country.
The rebels behind the most recent instability signed a 2007 peace accord allowing them to join the regular army, but insurgent leaders say the deal wasn’t fully implemented.
Rebels say they are fighting because of their “thirst for justice, for peace, for security and for economic development of the people of CAR”.
They are also demanding that the government make payments to ex-combatants.