CAR leaders and rebels to hold talks

Move comes a month after fighters from several groups rose up against government with little control over the north.

    CAR leaders and rebels to hold talks
    Supporters of President Bozize gather in Bangui pledging to guard the capital against rebels attacks [Reuters]

    Delegations representing Central African Republic's government and the rebels who now control much of the country's northern region, are meeting in Gabon to hold peace talks.

    The peace talks, which will begin on Tuesday in Libreville, Gabon, come a month after fighters from several armed groups began their rebellion against a government that has wielded little power over its vast and sparsely populated north.

    A spokesman of the rebel alliance, collectively known as Seleka, reiterated calls on Monday for the removal of President Francois Bozize, saying he has "lost all credibility" to lead the country.

    "He has to leave power," Eric Massi, a rebel spokesman, said in an interview with Al Jazeera from Paris.

    But even before the talks could start, Massi already rejected Bozize's offer to form a coalition government with the rebels.

    Instead Massi called for a "peaceful transfer of power, in order to preserve the peace and security of all the citizens of the capital".

    "If he [Bozize] had it at the beginning of the conflict, it would have been a great solution," Massi said, adding that now that the rebels are close to the capital, it might be too late for the president to make the offer.

    Advance halted

    Massi confirmed that rebel groups have already advanced as far as 10km from the buffer zone between rebels and the forces from Chad.

    While the rebels have halted their advance towards the capital Bangui, a city of 700,000 people, they now hold a dozen communities.

    The rebellion has posed the greatest threat to Bozize's presidency since he himself seized power in 2003.

    Some residents of this nation of 4.4 million have little faith the government will be able to reach a lasting agreement with the rebels, especially given that multiple peace accords already have been signed over the years with multiple groups.

    While the rebels had vowed to halt their advance pending the negotiations, residents said two communities were seized over the weekend.

    In Bangui, the presence of regional troops who have been sent from Gabon, Cameroon, Republic of Congo and Chad to help stabilise the country has reassured residents.

    South Africa also has said it is sending at least 400 soldiers to help support national forces here.

    Should the peace talks fail and rebels overrun the capital, Massi said the rebels are no interested in a violent takeover of the presidency.

    "I would like to have a political solution," Massi said. "But please don't let us go to war that we don't want, becasue we are the people of Central African Republic and we want peace."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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