, BANGUI, Dec 30 – Central African Republic President Francois Bozize is open to a national unity government after he has talks with rebel fighters, and he will not run for president in 2016, the head of the African Union said Sunday.
After meeting with Bozize in the capital Bangui, AU chief Thomas Boni Yayi said he was ready to go to the Gabonese capital Libreville for talks to end a crisis that has seen rebels sweep across the impoverished country and close in on the capital.
The talks “should lead to a national unity government,” Boni Yayi said, adding that Bozize, who seized power in a 2003 coup and then won two elections, would not run for re-election in 2016 and would “respect constitutional provisions.”
Opposition figures have harshly criticised the president whom they suspect of wanting to modify the constitution in order to be able to stand for a third term in office.
Rebels from a coalition known as Seleka, who took up arms on December 10 near the border with Chad and have met little resistance from government troops, on Sunday warned they could enter Bangui.
“Bozize intends to give battle in Bangui, and if the situation demands it, we will take action,” rebel spokesman Eric Massi told AFP by telephone from the Gabonese capital Libreville before Boni Yayi’s meeting with the president.
He stressed that the rebels were not currently planning to seize the capital.
Tensions were high in Bangui after the country’s armed forces retreated to Damara, the last major town on the way to Bangui, about 75 kilometres (45 miles) away, in the southwest.
With the rebels closing in, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), which has troops in the country, warned both sides Sunday that Damara must remain in government control.
“The ECCAS forces are on maximum alert, and the city of Damara is the line not to be crossed. We ask the FACA (government forces) and the rebels not to advance from their current positions and to give talks a chance,” said Antonio Di Garcia, head of the regional bloc’s mission, on national radio.